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Data-sharing gap puts agencies at risk

Chief information officers from federal agencies say turf wars and incompatible computer programs are frustrating efforts to bolster homeland security.

Members of Congress listened to testimony Tuesday on obstacles that government agencies face in sharing information with each other and with the private sector in the battle against terrorism.

Gartner analyst French Caldwell says the government doesn't yet recognize the size of the effort required for agencies involved in national security to share information.

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At a hearing held by the House Subcommittee on Technology and Procurement, chief information officers from federal agencies said turf wars and "stovepipes" of information created by incompatible computer programs are frustrating efforts to bolster homeland security.

Following the Sept. 11 attacks, lack of information sharing and communication among federal, state and local governments became a focus of the Bush administration's Office of Homeland Security. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has earmarked millions of dollars of its proposed $52 billion federal information-technology budget for 2003 to homeland security projects.

The hearing included testimony from chief information officers of the Department of Transportation, the State Department, U.S. Customs Service and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Software and system integration companies Accenture, Electronic Data Systems, IBM and Siebel Systems also testified.

"The technology companies told us that the solutions are out there to better protect our nation," said David Marin, spokesman for Tom Davis, chairman of the subcommittee. "The question is, are government acquisition officials trained to identify those solutions, and are CIOs in each agency sufficiently empowered to implement solutions in a cross-agency manner?"

In addition to organizational problems, the government faces the technical challenge of linking myriad databases and information systems at dozens of agencies.

The subcommittee, created last year, will work closely with the OMB on shaping IT investment strategy and may explore legislation to address the problem, Marin said.