Office of Operations
21st Century Operations Using 21st Century Technologies

Appendix E. FC Interoperability Challenges

In 2008, in the results of the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) annual survey of governors’ homeland security advisors, survey respondents identified developing interoperable communications as the issue for which States most need Federal assistance—in the form of funding and guidance, with FCs serving as the primary method for sharing information with DHS. 

In April 2008, the GAO revisited the areas of concern that it reported to the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs’ Ad Hoc Subcommittee on State, Local, and Private Sector Preparedness and Integration. In the report, there were still areas where more work needed to be done, and the GAO reported that DHS and U.S. DOJ were still working to correct the problem areas.

Concerning interoperability, the GAO reports that DHS, U.S. DOJ, and the Program Manager for Information Sharing Environment (PM-ISE) have taken steps to give FCs more access to Federal information systems. Of the 43 FCs interviewed by the GAO, 40 reported having access to HSIN, 16 were awaiting access to the DHS classified network, 39 have access to LEO, and 23 are in the process of gaining access to FBI classified systems. However, while FCs are primarily designed to serve the jurisdictions within which they operate, thus purchasing systems that they feel best serve their needs, centers are working to overcome the issue of interoperability. FCs have developed a solution to interoperability by producing alerts, bulletins, reports, and assessment products that can be transmitted in an unclassified format over everyday mediums such as text, e-mail, and fax. This information is usually intended to educate and inform those individuals who have the right and need to know the information. However, phone calls are the most often-used method by FCs when dealing with outside agencies. Individuals identified in an agency as a person with “need to know” status or the appropriate clearance and “need to know” status can be the recipient of information from an FC despite a lack of formal interoperability between the FC and the other agency.

On the opposite end of a lack of interoperability and the lack of information is an FC receiving too much data. To tackle the concern over information overload in FCs, one strategy involves funneling information to the proper analysts.[69] For example, in the Virginia FC, information concerning a particular mode of transportation (e.g., rail, freight, and highway) would be reviewed by an expert specializing in that mode, while information about gangs would go to that analyst. “These folks are trained researchers,” explains Richard W. Kelly, Director of New Jersey’s FC. “They know what to look for when they stick a ladle into that great stream of information.”[70] DHS, U.S. DOJ, and PM-ISE are also working to streamline the information process. It has even been recommended to the GAO that DHS and U.S. DOJ limit the number of existing systems or develop a unified platform for information sharing between FCs and between FCs and the Federal government. Following the national FC conference held in March 2008, Charlie Allen, Under Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis at DHS, reported that DHS was committed to building a national FC network to connect the FCs in all 50 States and all major cities. Such a network would be the solution that could address many of the current FC issues. In 2009, Director Robert Riegle, State and Local Program Office, Office of Intelligence and Analysis, testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security, Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing, and Terrorism Risk Assessment, that the use of a common FC backbone/platform for information sharing has been recognized as key to better information sharing and collaboration. FC directors indicated that leveraging the framework of the Suspicious Activity Reporting (SAR) Initiative could be beneficial in further standardizing the use of technology across the FC network.

Clearances and classification of documents is another concern. While DHS and US DOJ work to provide clearances to the backlog of individuals that need them, over-classification of documents can make information gathering or sharing slow for the FCs. Issues still are reported to exist between FBI and DHS accepting each other’s clearances. This problem exists because each agency conducts its own clearance process resulting in gaps between the two organizations’ processes. One solution to overcoming this issue is the deployment of DHS officials to 36 operational FCs across the country. In addition, the FBI has assigned 114 employees to assist in 38 FCs. These professional analysts will assist at the centers where they are assigned and could be used to help with the handling of classified materials above the level assigned to the analyst. Another strategy to overcome classification issues is to grant clearances at the top secret (TS) level. However, it is important to point out that an individual with a TS may not necessarily have “need to know” status either. For outside agencies working with FCs, having an individual in that agency with “need to know” status or having the appropriate clearance and “need to know” status will aid them in receiving the information needed from the FC to complete its mission.    

The August 2006, FC Guidelines were designed to provide guidance, technical assistance, and training to FCs. Based on the April 2007 GAO report, this area still needs to be addressed further. Until FCs are able to receive the type of training and guidance they report to need, training of partner agencies will be difficult. The March 2008 national FC conference saw the establishment of baseline-level FC capabilities; however, feedback is pending. In the meantime, FCs like the Michigan Intelligence Operation Center have begun to offer various forms of training for local law enforcement and partners of the intelligence cycle. This solution by outreach not only trains partner agencies that may not be familiar with the needs of and products produced by the FCs but also builds stronger relationships and a better understanding for one another.        

[69] Kaplan, Eben, Fusion Centers, Council on Foreign Relations website, February 22, 2007.

[70] Ibid.

June 2010
Publication #FHWA-HOP-09-003