Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

July 22, 2009

How To Improve Homeland Security: Give the ODNI Oversight Responsibility for Fusion Centers

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing — by Christopher Bellavita on July 22, 2009

Darwin has as much to contribute to homeland security as Newton.

The Newtonian metaphor says understand the basic forces in play, and then use those forces to create the outcomes you want.  It is the logic that underpins planing and efforts like the National Strategy for Homeland Security.

The Darwinian metaphor thrives on complexity.  It attends to variation, selection and reproduction.  First allow a hundred flowers to bloom.  (Like the upcoming National Dialogue for the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review seeks to nourish. ) Then watch the variations emerge.  Some will be selected and reproduced. Other variations will die.

To me, fusion centers are a fine example of Darwinian logic in homeland security.  There was no comprehensive national plan to create fusion centers.  In original intent, Founding-Fathers-federalism fashion, states and cities decided they were not getting the intelligence they wanted.  Arizona, Georgia, Illinois, New York and a handful of other jurisdictions took responsibility for processing – or “fusing” – their own intelligence.

Currently, there are more than 70 fusion centers in the country.  Apparently each one differs from the others.  Today’s guest blogger — Jason P. Nairn — thinks we can do better.

Jason is with the Michigan Department of Management and Budget, with responsibility for Security and Emergency Management.  Jason argues it is time to bring the largely uncoordinated evolution of fusion centers into more effective alignment.  He believes the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) ought to start exerting some direction over fusion centers.

Newton is about understanding in order to control.  Darwin is about understanding in order to appreciate the creativity of complex adaptive systems.  Homeland security can gain from using both ideas.  But when it comes to fusion centers, Jason Nairn thinks it’s time for a bit more Newton and a little less Darwin.

1.    What one sentence best describes your idea about how to improve homeland security?

Enhance the effectiveness of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) by making the ODNI responsible for the regulation and support of state fusion centers.

2.    Describe your idea in more depth

While state fusion centers are ostensibly owned and operated by states, they are designed, constructed, operated and approved according to guidelines, standards and requirements developed by a variety of agencies at the federal level.  These guidelines are often presented as “voluntary,” but compliance affects the quality of information a state fusion center receives from federal agencies.  For instance, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Intelligence and Analysis State and Local Programs Office (SLPO) has a primary role in the state fusion center program.  The SLPO and their state-assigned personnel provide a conduit, according to DHS, to the rest of the intelligence community.  However, DHS’s role is rivaled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), which has a major role in fusion center operations, as does the Department of Justice (DoJ), the Department of Defense (DoD), the Central Intelligence Agency and the ODNI.  Each of these agencies comes with guidelines for their participation in a state’s fusion center.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s role has been via their Program Manager for the Information Sharing Environment, but their resources and thus their effectiveness is limited.    DHS and FBI officials, however, are currently assigned to many of the states’ fusion centers and thus involved in their daily operations.  While DHS, DoJ and FBI continue to work on collaboration, with notable results, there have been reports of tussles over access to and control of information between DHS, FBI, states and other agencies.  As the ODNI was developed to deal with these types of issues in the intelligence community, and as it would be advantageous for a consolidated, single entity for states to deal with in the development and operation of state fusion centers, the ODNI should be given sole and comprehensive authority to regulate and support state fusion centers.

3.    What problem or issue does your idea address?

States are required to deal with several federal agencies in the design, construction, and operation of fusion centers.  The ODNI’s oversight of the program would provide states with a single source for guidance and information and would make the participating federal entities responsible to comply with their oversight.  The ODNI’s oversight would also involve the development of a single set of guidelines and requirements for fusion centers, rather than the fractious, component-based programs that are currently in place.

4.    If your idea were to become reality, who would benefit the most, and how?

States would benefit the most by having a streamlined process and clear expectations with regard to federal intelligence participation in the design, construction and operation of fusion centers.  State and local homeland security professionals would benefit from better-run fusion centers and clearer expectations due to consolidated control.

5.    What are the initial steps needed to get the idea off the ground?

Congressional action is required to reorganize the federal program and provide ODNI with the authority and resources to manage the important state fusion center program.

6.    Describe the optimal outcome should your idea be selected and successfully implemented. How would you measure that outcome?

Optimally, states will develop fusion center facilities and programs according to a comprehensive set of guidelines and requirements provided by and enforced by a single government agency with the authority to bring all of the intelligence community’s resources to bear to assist the states.  In return, the federal government will be assured that state fusion centers, among which there is currently some significant disparity, meet a single set of minimum standards.

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1 Comment »

Comment by William R. Cumming

July 22, 2009 @ 4:13 pm

Note the statutory discourse on info sharing in Public Law 110-53 signed into law Agust 3, 2007 entitled “Implementing Recommendations of 9/11 Commission Act of 2007.”
copies available from http://thomas.loc.gov

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