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Department of Homeland Security Legislation Considered in Congress

Proposed Department May Increase Need for Interoperability Standards

New York, Jun 27, 2002

Shortly after September 11th, the government commenced a series of investigations as to how a terror attack of such magnitude could have occurred without prior warning. While each agency has focused on possible contributing factors within its own purview, the White House has identified a need for increased inter-agency cooperation.

In his June 18th address to Congress, President George Bush explained, "Our nation needs a more unified homeland security structure…substantially transforming the current confusing patchwork of government activities into a single department whose primary mission is to secure our homeland." The creation of a new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is intended to increase interoperability between various offices in the federal government, thus ensuring that the proper authorities are notified in case of a suspected or an actual attack. The responsibilities of the DHS, coupled with the increased focus on interoperability, will likely increase the need for government reliance on new or existing voluntary consensus standards (VCS).

"Because a Department of Homeland Security has yet to be formally established, it's premature to speculate on the range of standards-related needs that such a department will have to address at organizational and operational levels," said Mark Bello, a spokesperson from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), a non-regulatory agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce and an ANSI member. "But it is clear that standards will be important to many efforts to improve homeland security."

Ron Ross, director of the National Information Assurance Partnership, a joint activity between NIST's Computer Security Division and National Security Agency (NSA), indicated that it was premature to speculate on the role of the private-sector in DHS as yet, however, "as many of the systems currently used by NIST and other federal agencies rely on VCS to ensure interoperability, it is difficult to envision that this process will not continue."

Originally drafted by the White House, DHS legislation was introduced on June 24, 2002 in the House by Representative Richard Armey (R-TX), following a similar bill introduced in the Senate on May 2, 2002 by Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT). The White House bill states that the purpose of the new department is to "prevent terrorists attacks, reduce the vulnerability of the U.S. to terrorism, and minimize the damage, and assist in the recovery, from [potential] attacks..."

According to Bello, NIST has identified two examples of current projects that could be used to facilitate homeland security-related needs and operations. One such activity focuses on public safety communication standards that NIST will collaborate on with the public safety community and VCS organizations such as the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers(IEEE), an ANSI member and ANSI-accredited standards developer. IEEE will contribute standard message sets for transferring information among public safety, transportation and hazardous material incident command centers that will be used to coordinate first responders' standards needs.

The other example deals with biometric technologies and applications used to validate identity. Co-chaired by the agency and the NSA, the Biometric Consortium is responsible for a Common Biometric Exchange File Format (CBEFF) that defines a common set of data elements necessary to support multiple biometric technologies that use physiological or behavioral characteristics to authenticate identity. CBEFF also promotes interoperability of biometric-based application programs and systems and is a candidate for approval as an American National Standard. [For more information on Biometrics, please refer to the ANSI Online News item, Pace Picks Up for Biometrics Standards Development.]

The final version of DHS legislation will likely call for sweeping changes in the way the U.S. government manages defense, intelligence, communications and many other related systems, and as such this issue will become increasingly important to the ANSI Federation. The Institute will continue to monitor the subject closely and through the work of its members, the Government Member Forum and ANSI staff will work to assure the new agency has full access to the benefits of interaction with the VCS community.

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