So far, there is no congressional mandate for state or local agencies to organize intelligence fusion centers such as the one found in Maryland. There are also no guarantees that the federal grants helping fund such centers will last.
Departments of Homeland Security and Justice grants have helped fund many of the centers. The steadiness and duration of the grants, however, will be subject to congressional budget pressures. DHS’ contributions have amounted to $380 million so far. The National Governors Association, in an issue brief, warned that states need to “identify and allocate” early in the organization process state funding sources that will keep the centers operating.
“As with any government endeavor, the major obstacle to setting up and operating an intelligence fusion center is money,” the NGA said.
Because state, regional and local fusion centers are voluntary endeavors, it varies how they are funded, staffed and where they are located.
The Justice Department released 104 pages of guidelines, which states are “encouraged” to follow. In it, federal funds are described as “seed money,” and it also warns that centers need to identify funding sources early on.
As is often the case with federal grants, there are rules to follow on how the money can be spent. One sticking point is a rule preventing DHS grants to hire intelligence analysts, the NGA paper notes. Some states have circumvented this by using less restrictive Justice Department grants.
Maryland’s Coordination and Analysis Center, for example, receives no state funding. Grants pay for the operating costs of about $500,000. The FBI pays the $300,000 per year needed to lease the office space. The agencies assigning personnel to the center pay their salaries, according to its director, Charles Rapp.
Another gray area is what constitutes a fusion center. The National Criminal Intelligence Resource Center, which keeps track of the numbers of such operations, defines it loosely as “a collaborative effort of two or more agencies that provide resources, expertise, and/or information to the center with the goal of maximizing the ability to detect, prevent, apprehend and respond to criminal and terrorist activity.”
Under this definition, no federal involvement is necessary. Nor is it mandatory to be located under one roof. They can, and often are, being used to share information on non-terrorism related crimes across jurisdictions.
DHS’ goal was to place its personnel in 20 centers by the end of 2007, with an additional 15 by the end of the 2008 fiscal year, according to DHS intelligence chief Charles Allen.
DHS’ role is to help organize the centers and ensure federal terrorist threat warnings are shared quickly with the appropriate local officials, Allen said.
The question is: if there are no federal personnel assigned to a fusion center, is it really a fusion center?
“There’s no formal definition that I’m aware of,” said DHS spokesman Kirk Whitworth. The department generally accepts the National Criminal Intelligence Resource Center description, he added.
Please email your comments to SMagnuson@ndia.org