DHS Fusion Centers Being Redirected toward Common Crimes, Disasters

Designed for counter-terrorism intelligence sharing, centers faced with new operational challenges

Because its building does not meet security requirements, the Arizona center cannot access some of the federal information systems.

"We would be able to, but again, we don't have the funding for that," Norris said.

In addition, Norris said, she would like the government to pick one or two systems for sharing information - not the three or four currently used.

"I have to log on with four different passwords into these systems every single day and look at all this stuff," Norris said.

Many centers do not know what information to expect from Washington or how quickly they can expect to receive it.

"There's got to be a clearer definition as to when that information goes out and who it goes out to," Norris said.

It's not uncommon, she said, for law enforcement officers to learn of important developments first from the news media.

But when information is sent to the states, it often comes more than once, said Richard Kelly, who heads New Jersey's fusion center.

"If DHS and FBI put out a joint bulletin, we get it twice," Kelly said. "If we ever did get to one standard policy in how to communicate down to the states and locals, that would be a good thing."

The GAO also found that some fusion centers have had a hard time hiring and training analysts, and many say they need federal guidance on what skills the analysts should have.

Fusion centers have found it hard to get security clearances for their personnel and find that, even with appropriate clearances, information continues to be withheld. Nineteen centers told the GAO that federal agencies, most often the FBI and Homeland Security, wouldn't accept each other's clearances even though the law says they're supposed to.