Federal Efforts Are Helping to Alleviate Some Challenges Encountered by State and Local Information Fusion Centers
GAO-08-35: Published: Oct 30, 2007. Publicly Released: Nov 29, 2007.
In general, a fusion center is a collaborative effort to detect, prevent, investigate, and respond to criminal and terrorist activity. Recognizing that fusion centers are a mechanism for information sharing, the federal government--including the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Department of Justice (DOJ), and the Program Manager for the Information Sharing Environment (PM-ISE), which has primary responsibility for governmentwide information sharing and is located in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence--is taking steps to partner with fusion centers. In response to Congressional request, GAO examined (1) the status and characteristics of fusion centers and (2) to what extent federal efforts help alleviate challenges the centers identified. GAO reviewed center-related documents and conducted interviews with officials from DHS, DOJ, and the PM-ISE, and conducted semistructured interviews with 58 state and local fusion centers. The results are not generalizable to the universe of fusion centers. Data are not available on the total number of local fusion centers.
Most states and many local governments have established fusion centers to address gaps in information sharing. Fusion centers across the country vary in their stages of development--from operational to early in the planning stages. Officials in 43 of the centers GAO contacted described their centers as operational, and 34 of these centers had opened since January 2004. Law enforcement entities, such as state police or state bureaus of investigation, are the lead or managing agencies in the majority of the operational centers GAO contacted; however, the centers varied in their staff sizes and partnerships with other agencies. Nearly all of the operational fusion centers GAO contacted had federal personnel assigned to them. For example, DHS has assigned personnel to 17, and the FBI has assigned personnel to about three quarters of the operational centers GAO contacted. DHS and DOJ have several efforts under way that begin to address challenges fusion center officials identified. DHS and DOJ have provided many fusion centers access to their information systems, but fusion center officials cited challenges accessing and managing multiple information systems. Both DHS and the FBI have provided security clearances for state and local personnel and set timeliness goals. However, officials cited challenges obtaining and using security clearances. Officials in 43 of the 58 fusion centers contacted reported facing challenges related to obtaining personnel, and officials in 54 fusion centers reported challenges with funding, some of which affected these centers' sustainability. The officials said that these issues made it difficult to plan for the future and created concerns about the fusion centers' ability to sustain their capability for the long-term. To support fusion centers, both DHS and the FBI have assigned personnel to the centers. To help address funding issues, DHS has made several changes to address restrictions on the use of federal grants funds. These individual agency efforts help address some of the challenges with personnel and funding. However, the federal government has not clearly articulated the long-term role it expects to play in sustaining fusion centers. It is critical for center management to know whether to expect continued federal resources, such as personnel and grant funding, since the federal government, through the information sharing environment, expects to rely on a nationwide network of centers to facilitate information sharing with state and local governments. Finally, DHS, DOJ, and the PM-ISE have taken steps to develop guidance and provide technical assistance to fusion centers, for instance, by issuing guidelines for establishing and operating centers. However, officials at 31 of the 58 centers said they had challenges training their personnel, and officials at 11 centers expressed a need for the federal government to establish standards for training fusion center analysts to help ensure that analysts have similar skills. DHS and DOJ have initiated a technical assistance program for fusion centers. They have also developed a set of baseline capabilities, but the document was still in draft as of September and had not been issued.
Recommendation for Executive Action
Status: Closed - Implemented
Comments: In October 2007, we reviewed state and local fusion centers, challenges these centers identified in establishing and operating, and federal efforts to support these centers. We reported, among other things, that despite Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) efforts to deploy personnel to fusion centers and DHS's grant funding, center officials were concerned about long-term sustainability, both the extent of federal support they could expect, as well as the roles of their state or local jurisdictions. Further we reported that decisions could be made and articulated to fusion centers about how the federal government views its role with respect to providing resources as short-term for start-up or longer term for operational needs. DHS and the Program Manager for the Information Sharing Environment (PM-ISE), in collaboration with the FBI and others, have undertaken several efforts to define DHS's, and the federal government's, roles and responsibilities in supporting the development and sustainment of a national network of fusion centers, as envisioned in the National Strategy for Information Sharing. For example, the PM-ISE issued a Federal Resource Allocation Criteria policy in June 2011 establishing criteria and a coordinated approach to help ensure that federal agencies provide appropriate support to fusion centers. In addition, DHS, in collaboration with the PM-ISE and the FBI, conducted an assessment of fusion centers' capabilities from October 2010 through August 2011, and in May 2012 reported on centers' core operational capabilities as well as national network strengths and areas for improvement. In its report, DHS recommended, among other things, that DHS and its federal partners should focus on assisting fusion centers to address existing capability gaps and should concentrate support in training, technical assistance services, and federal personnel when assisting centers in building their capabilities. The repeatable annual assessment is intended to provide insight into the national network's current capacity, be a tool for enabling the development of a more robust capability across fusion centers, and inform federal support to fusion centers. These actions, along with the continued annual assessment process, are consistent with our recommendation.
Recommendation: To improve efforts to create a national network of fusion centers, the National Fusion Center Coordination Group (NFCCG), through the Information Sharing Council and the Program Manager for the Information Sharing Environment (PM-ISE), should determine and articulate the federal government's role in, and whether it expects to provide resources to, fusion centers over the long-term to help ensure their sustainability. Particular emphasis should be placed on how best to sustain those fusion center functions that support a national information sharing capability as critical nodes of the ISE.
Agency Affected: National Fusion Center Coordination Group (NFCCG)