Wednesday, December 5, 2012

HSTODAY.COM: Authorities Seek More Integration Across Federal Screening and Credentialing Efforts


Authorities Seek More Integration Across Federal Screening and Credentialing Efforts

By: Mickey McCarter                 12/03/2012 ( 8:00am)

Federal agencies could do more to integrate screening and credentialing efforts throughout government to ease the process of vetting multiple individuals multiple times -- whether for the benefits of security clearances, restricted access, or trusted traveling, experts agreed during a panel Thursday.

"This is an area where no one really cares until you screw up or until you make people wait too long," commented Monte Hawkins, at deputy group chief at the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC).

A few of the challenges facing enterprise screening and credentialing systems throughout the government include too many redundancies and multiple screenings of the same traveler or applicant, said Hawkins, speaking at a forum sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC.

The intelligence community (IC) also must improve the collection of information to build up more biographic details, he said. Agencies could accomplish this perhaps through collection of more detailed information on applicants also thereby easing recurring vetting for periodic renewal of the benefits for trusted travelers or cleared personnel.

Hawkins also called for more automation in processing information.

"We have processes that have been in place now for a while that have been very manual" and thus very time consuming, Hawkins said. "You have to rely on automation to do this triage for you."

Hawkins recommended a reexamination of the overall screening architecture across agencies, calling for a structure similar to the National Targeting Center at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) except at a higher, national level.

IC communications also remain very pocketed and segmented despite dramatic improvement over the last 10 years, Hawkins observed. Opening those communications up a bit more between agencies would allow authorities to "connect the dots" faster. And more interconnected communications would make it easier for agencies that engage in a lower priority screening, such as for benefits eligibility, to make faster and easier determinations.

Still, screening and credentialing has evolved to a point where authorities quickly and systematically can make use of information from intelligence and law enforcement databases, said Victoria Newhouse, deputy assistant administrator for risk-based security at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

For example, TSA fully implemented Secure Flight in late 2010 to do just that, Newhouse said. TSA matches traveler information against intelligence and law enforcement databases to quickly determine if a traveler poses a danger to aviation security.

Still, TSA would like to improve the speed with which it can verify the identities of passengers presenting identification cards or even those who lose their identification while on vacation, Newhouse commented.

TSA PreCheck represents the direction TSA is embracing with regard to applying different applications of screening to travelers, depending upon the perceived level or risk represented by individual air passengers, she continued. PreCheck does not involve less screening but rather more screening is done upfront, of biographical data for example, to determine if individuals should receive more or less scrutiny at airport checkpoints.

Boosting information collection and cooperation among agencies will be key drivers to successfully implementing risk-based security measures, Newhouse said. DHS agencies require more integration with partners outside the department and more harmonization within the department.

Kelli Ann Walther, senior director of the DHS Screening Coordination Office, said the department maintains a flexible screening and credentialing framework to accommodate 40 individual programs within the DHS screening portfolio.

Some screening programs require a robust background check while some are lighter, Walther noted, and appropriately so depending on the benefits derived from the screening outcome.

"That demonstrates that there isn't one solution for all screening and credentialing programs but really there are not 100 solutions either -- that's not the solution," Walther remarked.

By applying standards across newer agencies like TSA and older agencies like the US Coast Guard, DHS seeks to harmonize different approaches and multiple credentialing efforts to reduce redundant vetting, Walther said.

The department sets objectives to set up credentials for multiple purposes instead of a single use, to standardize vetting procedures, and to share vetting results across programs, Walther said. Applicants also must have appropriate opportunities to seek redress.

IDENT, the DHS biometric storage and matching service, represents a good example of common applications across multiple credentialing programs, Walther said. TSA, Coast Guard, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and others can turn to the same enterprise service to verify biometrics like fingerprints from one uniform source.

In the future, DHS will look for more efficiencies and more opportunities to leverage such enterprise services, Walther said.

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