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Bill Would Create Information-Sharing Office In Homeland Security Department

Legislation provides first responders with funding for communications equipment.
Legislation to create an Office of Information Sharing within the Department of Homeland Security was introduced in the Senate on Wednesday. The bill, known as the Homeland Security Interagency and Interjurisdictional Information Sharing Act of 2004, is sponsored by Susan Collins, R.-Maine, and Joseph Lieberman, D.-Conn., the chair and ranking minority member of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, which oversees government IT policy.

The legislation also contains provisions to aid first responders in financing interoperable communications equipment.

"Three years after the Sept. 11 attacks, too many first responders still lack the basic ability to talk to one another during emergencies," Lieberman said in prepared remarks. "And key federal agencies still aren't effectively sharing homeland security information among themselves, much less with state and local officials."

The legislation would authorize $3.3 billion over five years to provide a reliable and consistent funding source specifically for interoperability solutions. Collins said she frequently hears complaints that inoperable communications equipments remains a substantial impediment to first responders' ability to respond to a potential terrorist attack. "First responders in every state are doing their part, but they need and deserve federal help," she said. "Our bill provides it."

The proposed Office of Information Sharing would develop and implement a national strategy and provide the leadership, outreach, and technical assistance necessary to achieve interoperability. The bill also would require the secretary of Homeland Security, along with intelligence and other federal agencies, to establish a Systemwide Homeland Analysis and Resource Exchange Network to assist in the sharing of homeland security information among all levels of government.

The proposed act would compel the Homeland Security secretary to develop an annual performance plan and evaluate senior officials on achieving measurable progress. Employees across government would be rewarded for developing innovative practices, procedures, and technologies to foster appropriate sharing of homeland security information, according to the bill's provisions.

The bill's sponsors say the cost of achieving interoperability won't be inexpensive. Homeland Security has estimated the cost of modernizing land, mobile, radio systems nationwide at $40 billion. A Council on Foreign Relations task force recommended spending at least $6.8 billion over five years.

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