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Information Silos Stand In The Way Of Interoperability

Government IT pros are pursuing a more open public enterprise, but system interoperability remains a formidable challenge.

Mandates Meet Reality
As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, all agencies are required to disclose details of their stimulus spending on, including the states involved and jobs created. Yet Jacquelyn Patillo, the Transportation Department's acting CIO, recently said this mandate would be a problem for her agency, which is to receive $58 billion in funding. The problem? At least 10 Transportation financial systems don't interact with one another.

The Treasury Department is looking to bring consistency to its financial reporting with the Governmentwide Treasury Account Symbol Adjusted Trial Balance System, which will consolidate four systems that collect agency accounting data by 2012. Working in Treasury's favor are new standard formats for consolidated financial reporting, which are due for implementation a year before that.

The White House Office of Management and Budget has room for improvement, too. The GAO says the OMB has yet to describe how agencies should create financial management systems that would "operate cohesively" for modernization efforts.

Gaps in information sharing among federal agencies came to the fore after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when it became clear that various intelligence agencies had pieces of information about the attackers but no agency had the whole picture. There has been progress since then, from multiagency information-sharing agreements to the adoption of blogs and wikis, but rifts remain.

A government-wide approach to sharing terrorism information, the Information Sharing Environment, was mandated in 2004, but it has yet to be fully developed. The ISE program manager last year found that fewer than half of agencies had adopted training programs on information-sharing processes and mandates. "The sense of urgency on information sharing has diminished since the 9/11 attacks," the Markle Foundation finds. "Old habits die hard."

John Garing, CIO, DISA
The goal is to share capabilities across the military, says DISA CIO Garing
Though mechanisms like Intellipedia are in place to share information, the GAO last year found that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence had yet to define the scope of ISE or articulate which types of information should be included. DISA's Garing says the Defense Department continues to have gaps in intelligence sharing as well.

Other data silos identified by the GAO: Electronic medical records at the DOD and the Department of Veterans Affairs aren't fully interoperable, and the Internal Revenue Service needs to get better at coordinating audit schedules with states.

Still, there are a growing number of mechanisms to share intelligence information, thanks largely to the Office of Intelligence Community Enterprise Solutions, a shared-services group under the Director of National Intelligence. Signs of progress include 830,000 pages on the Intellipedia wiki, more than 17,000 instant messaging users each day, intelligence-oriented blogs, and a rollout of Microsoft SharePoint for cross-agency collaboration.

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