WASHINGTON – The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Wednesday took testimony about the good progress the federal government is making in sharing intelligence information among agencies, and with state and local officials, and what improvements are still needed.

The Government Accountability Office released a report in tandem with the hearing that found that despite some progress, goals and milestones for information sharing remained unidentified, as did a method to assess those goals and milestones.

“Federal, state and local officials are now collaborating and sharing information in ways that represent a significant improvement over the case pre-911 – to fight terrorism, but also criminal activity and other threats,” said Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn. “Significant obstacles remain – but the key now is to continue to improve and institutionalize the initiatives that are taking place so they become the routine way our government operates.

Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Me., in a written statement said: “The creation of the ISE sought to promote a new culture of cooperation that would ensure that the intelligence failures leading up to September 11 will not be repeated. These reforms have made it easier for intelligence agencies to share and integrate information. At the same time, there is also a broad consensus that there remain cultural and bureaucratic hurdles to be overcome that are impeding the free flow of information from the federal government to state and local law enforcement. We need to continue to closely monitor the implementation of the ISE in order to ensure that these issues are resolved as quickly as possible and that usable information is getting into the hands of those who need it to protect our nation.”

The attacks of 9-11 demonstrated the acute dangers that result when agencies responsible for protecting the nation fail to share information. The 9-11 Commission report documented many instances where agencies either kept crucial information to themselves or, even if they were prepared to share information, did not let other agencies know they had it. As a result, crucial clues in different agency databases – that if combined and analyzed might have thwarted the attacks – were missed, and the terrorists succeeded in the most devastating attack on the U.S. since Pearl Harbor.

“The culture of agencies feeling they own the information they gathered at taxpayers’ expense must be replaced by a culture in which the agencies instead feel they have a duty to the information – to repay the taxpayers’ investment by making that information available,” the 9-11 Commission wrote in its 2004 report.

In response, Congress passed and the President signed into law in 2004 “The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act,” which Senators Lieberman and Collins authored. It created the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to forge great unity of effort among our nation’s very diverse intelligence community. The legislation also established the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) and the office of the Program Manager for the Information Sharing Environment (ISE), both intended to strengthen and streamline the exchange of terrorism-related information within the federal government.

The “Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007,” which Lieberman and Collins also authored, further strengthened the authorities of the Information Sharing Environment program manager and established in statute the State and Local Fusion Center program office at DHS.

State and local governments are increasingly seen as partners by the federal government, Lieberman said, and network of fusion centers across the country, with support from the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security, is playing a valuable role in the broader efforts to share terrorism-related information and detect suspicious activities.

“We need to build on the progress that is being made and I look forward to working with the next Administration in making this program so critical to our nation’s security even more efficient and effective,” Lieberman said.