GAO: Transit Info-sharing Needs Improvement

Seventy-five percent of the public transit agencies surveyed by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) “reported being generally satisfied with the security-related information they received,” but “federal efforts to share security-related information could be improved."
In its new audit report, Public Transit Security Information Sharing: DHS Could Improve Information Sharing through Streamlining and Increased Outreach, GAO reported that “three-fourths of public transit agencies reported being either very satisfied or somewhat satisfied with the information they received,” adding that “public transit agencies also reported that among the 12 most frequently cited mechanisms, they were the least satisfied with [DHS’s Homeland Security Information Network, HSIN-PT]  in terms of general satisfaction (19 of 33) and for each of six dimensions of quality – relevance, validity, timeliness, completeness, actionability, and ease of use.”
Twenty-four survey respondents also cited the need to streamline the information they received,” GAO reported. GAO identified the potential for overlap between the [Public Transportation Information Sharing and Analysis Center, PT-ISAC], the HSIN-PT, and the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) Transportation Security Information Sharing and Analysis Center (TS-ISAC) – which is a subportal on HSIN focused on sharing security-related information with transportation stakeholders  – all of which communicate similar unclassified and security-related information to public transit agencies.
“Federal and transit industry officials that GAO interviewed reported the need to streamline information sharing. Moreover, a greater proportion of survey respondents who were unaware of the PT-ISAC or HSIN were from midsize agencies, nonrail agencies, and those without their own police department,” GAO stated. “Federal and industry officials formed a working group to assess the effectiveness of information-sharing mechanisms, including developing options for streamlining these mechanisms. TSA officials stated that these options will also impact future outreach activities; however, no time frame has been established for completing this effort. Establishing such a time frame could help to ensure that this effort is completed.”
Last year, the Philadelphia Area Regional Transit Security Working Group (PARTSWG) received a DHS transit security grant to fund development of a regional information sharing plan for a terror attack with an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) against the rail system in Philadelphia.
Funded under the Federal Emergency Management Agency fiscal year 2006 Transit Security Grant Program, Tier I – Rail Systems, the statement of work for the project, “Information Sharing Planning for Rail System Security Using an Improvised Explosive Device Terror Attack Scenario,” noted that “securing the rail system against an IED terror attack depends on effective communication and fast, resilient information flow, as well as physical infrastructure protection measures.”
According to Harold Neil, a former director of the New Jersey Department of Transportation’s Office of Transportation Security and chairman of Homeland Defense Solutions, regional transit security agencies must plan the sharing of information needed before, during and after an incident.
“Achieving the required communication flow – a top priority for critical infrastructure security – requires not only technical interoperability of computer systems, but also governance, Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), training, assessment, and ongoing management,” Neil said, adding “the continued deficiencies of information sharing remain.”
He said the thwarted November and December 2008 plots “illustrate those missed opportunities for advancing not just the discussion of information sharing but also the implementation of a systematic information sharing planning process. The gaps identified in the thwarted … terrorist attacks continue to exist within all levels of government, but are magnified when the private sector is included or added to the equation.”
Neil said the dominant questions continue to be: “How is information received from the private sector and what information does the private sector need to continue to operate in a safe and secure environment?”
“Most often the information is requested from government but there remains the gap for real time deliverance of relevant information in return,” Neil pointed out, noting that the result of the DHS-funded study “clearly presents a competent and clear solution which requires action.”
“Federal and industry officials formed a working group to assess the effectiveness of information-sharing mechanisms, including developing options for streamlining these mechanisms,” and “TSA officials stated that these options will also impact future outreach activities; however, no time frame has been established for completing this effort,” GAO reported.”Establishing such a time frame could help to ensure that this effort is completed.”
Continuing, GAO stated “DHS and TSA have established goals and performance measures for some of their information-sharing activities to help gauge the effectiveness of their overall information-sharing efforts; however, they have not developed goals and outcome-oriented measures of results of activities for the mechanisms established as primary information sources for the public transit industry.”
TSA officials acknowledged the importance of establishing such goals and measures, but were unable to provide time frames for doing so,” GAO said, pointing out that “establishing time frames for developing goals and outcome measures, once the working group effort is complete, could assist TSA in gauging the effectiveness of its efforts to share information with public transit agencies.”

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