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Interagency Information Sharing

Coast Guard collaboration to meet information sharing objectives

One of the 9/11 Commission’s major findings was the need to improve sharing terrorism-related information within and across government lines. This spurred significant action on the part of the president, Congress, and across the intelligence and law enforcement communities to transform information sharing into an all encompassing environment where the exchange of information is the rule, not the exception: To shift from the “need to know” construct toward a “responsibility to provide” paradigm. In addition to other efforts and legislation, the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 (IRTPA) ensured that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would have a central role in the information sharing environment. The current federal paradigm, per President Barack Obama’s October 2011 post-Wikileaks Executive Order, is now “responsible sharing.”

The Coast Guard, as the largest DHS component and a member of the intelligence community, possesses a unique role in federal information sharing efforts. As Vice Adm. Brian Salerno testified to Congress, “The Coast Guard is the lead federal agency for maritime transportation safety, law enforcement, and environmental stewardship, and it has a broad set of responsibilities and authorities. This gives us a unique leadership role in helping to coordinate maritime governance across a very broad set of government, commercial, and private stakeholders, both domestically and internationally. Responsible information sharing is the key to success in all our roles and missions.”


Coast Guard Information Sharing Initiatives

Since 2007, the Coast Guard’s Information Sharing Executive Agent (ISEA) staff has visited Coast Guard sectors and subordinate units. Staff members speak with sector personnel and their port partners about their working relationships in maritime safety and security and gather information about the current state of information sharing and joint operations.

These visits have multiple purposes, including:

  • documenting Coast Guard compliance with the federal laws and executive mandates regarding information sharing;
  • preparing for the annual DHS report to Congress on information sharing performance measures, and providing success stories to the federal Program Manager for Information Sharing;
  • responding to DHS and other executive and congressional inquiries on Coast Guard information sharing practices; and
  • supporting programs related to port safety and security and Coast Guard participation in the International Trade Data System, the Treasury Enforcement Communication System (TECS) Modernization Program, the DHS Information Sharing Segment Architecture, and the Coast Guard Enterprise Architecture, and the DHS Interagency Operations Centers program.

Visits are planned in coordination with several key Coast Guard and DHS stakeholders, including Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE). A variety of partners at the federal, state, local, public, private, and occasionally international levels are interviewed in each port to gather tangible examples of information sharing best practices and recommendations for improvement.


General Findings

Primary sector collaboration venues include Area Maritime Security Committees, harbor safety committees, and numerous other public or private committees or associations. In every port visited, the Coast Guard also plays a chairing or moderating role in local law enforcement or first responder associations, and is often the glue that holds them together, even when it is not the primary response or enforcement agency.

The Area Maritime Security Committee within each Coast Guard Captions of the Port is one venue used for federal, state, tribal, and local agencies to collaborate and conduct information sharing. Here, the Boston Area Maritime Security Committee conducts an exercise, led by the Coast Guard, to coordinate a simulated response to large-scale scenarios involving marine traffic in the Boston Harbor. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Etta Smith

Since commencing these interviews, a consistent trend toward increased collaborative planning, joint operations, and joint training among the Coast Guard and its numerous partners has been apparent. Although partners mainly attributed improved information sharing to the actions of their respective captains of the port, the similarity of responses from geographically distant ports was indicative of a deliberate agency-wide shift toward strengthening partnerships among Coast Guard stakeholders and throughout DHS.

The Neptune Coalition, for example, is comprised of about 20 federal, state, and local law enforcement and response agencies operating in the San Francisco Bay area and is facilitated by Coast Guard Sector San Francisco. Coalition members meet regularly, share operational information, and call upon each other for coverage or backup during incidents. Numerous respondents cited the Neptune Coalition as a major information sharing success story and effective best practice in the area.

The ISEA staff has been able to ascertain that a high degree of coordination and integration among the Coast Guard, CBP, and ICE is now common across the ports. This trend was not unexpected, since it reflects the many joint operational initiatives directed by the Coast Guard Commandant, the CBP Commissioner, and the ICE Director via their Senior Guidance Team.


Partner Recommendations

Additionally, respondents shared concerns and provided many recommendations for improving operational collaboration and information sharing. Examples include:

  • Meeting and exercise requirements: Most sectors and their partners are straining under statutory mandates for meetings, conferences, and training exercises. All parties are attempting to mitigate this burden by overlapping meetings when possible or exploring how to meet more than one requirement per exercise.
  •  Reporting protocols: Tactical partners at all levels use different reporting methods for different types of information. Common standards and protocols would improve efficiency.
  • Sharing classified information: Federal classification and security rules are often a barrier in releasing information to non-federal partners. Likewise, there are still differences in clearance practices between federal agencies, even within DHS.
  • Regulatory and policy interpretation: Industry partners conducting business in multiple ports note local variations in interpreting regulations, and would like to see nationwide consistency improved.
  • Technological capabilities and integration: Many ideas and solutions were recommended, such as “blue force tracking” by automatic identification system or global positioning system for all federal, state, and local partner marine assets; improved commercially available geographic information system capability and compatibility; and shared emergency notification capabilities.
  • Radio and network capabilities: Many partners reported concerns about the lack of shared capabilities and interoperability. While this is often locally overcome by sharing handheld radios, many partners seek more effective and efficient solutions.
  • Partner collocation: Partners assert that the collocation of federal, state, and local operational personnel and assets regularly deployed on Coast Guard operations should improve information sharing and operational effectiveness.

Best Practices

One of the goals of the annual port interagency information sharing interviews is to document best practices that other Coast Guard sectors as well as DHS components may wish to adopt. A small sample of the specific trends and practices we documented include:

Collaboration, Planning, Briefings, Meetings, and Training

  • The captain of the port is essentially the “ambassador” for the Coast Guard and plays a key personal role in developing, maintaining, and improving collaboration with partners, who specifically notice and refer to the captain’s personal involvement and guidance. By personally attending meetings and events, and maintaining an open door with government partners and industry executives, the COTP sets the stage for collaboration success in the sector.
  • Collaboration programs such as “industry days,” industry outreach strategies, and government affairs programs.
  • A “partner capability matrix” to identify and track available assets, communications capabilities, and personnel skills for incident planning.
  • Partnering with local marine exchanges to keep port information current.
  • Including partners in sector commander briefings.
  • Collocation with other agencies: Partners consistently report that face-to face interaction is always more effective than other means. Collocation with the Coast Guard sectors was most often observed with CBP, but other federal and state partners often report interest in collocation. Sectors and partners make up for lack of geo-proximity via liaison assignments, and all of the sectors visited to date have designated personnel assigned to federal task force units.
  • Training exchanges and cross-training opportunities: Several sectors participate in joint training programs with other federal agencies, with state and local government partners, and with public and private organizations such as port authorities and pilots’ associations. Government and industry partners often reported being invited to Coast Guard-sponsored training.

Coordination of Port Safety and Security Information

  • The Coast Guard sectors are continuing to improve their coordination of vessel boardings and cargo examinations with federal partners on a regular basis in many ports.
  • Coast Guard personnel commonly host or participate in meetings with state and local law enforcement and regulatory agencies in established forums to share ports and waterways information resources and collaborate with the DHS-funded state and local fusion centers.
  • Joint boardings, operations, and patrols are very common across all ports. Federal, state, and local partners attempt to optimize each other’s capabilities, particularly in the current austere funding environment.
  • Joint incident action planning and port restoral planning are now well established practices in critical ports.

Senior Leadership Strategic Planning, Policy, and Agreements

  • Federal/state agreements: Several sectors, with district facilitation, have developed memoranda of agreement with state partners for maritime security zone enforcement.
  • Sector commanders participate in many executive-level associations, meetings, forums, and working groups to maintain joint communications with their peers and the community they serve. Some of these venues are found nationally, such as the Joint Terrorism Task Force executive boards, but in every port we visited there were also local public/private executive groups, such as Baltimore’s Federal Advisory Quality Working Group, which adjudicates misunderstandings and seeks to improve relations among federal regulatory agencies and private industry.

Next Steps

DHS is developing a new Information Sharing and Safeguarding Strategy, to be published in 2012. The ISEA staff plans to introduce a comparable strategy and communication plan for the Coast Guard.

The ISEA staff has a new flag-directed focus on developing interactive websites for the posting of success stories and lessons learned from the field, both classified and unclassified/publicly releasable.

Findings from past port visits will be updated and new visits are planned in 2012.

For more information on Information Sharing Executive Agent staff initiatives or to review annual reports, please visit the Homeport site,

This article first appeared in Coast Guard Outlook: 2012 Edition.