Intelligence Policy Would Reward Information Sharing

10.08.08 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

A new policy seeks to promote sharing of terrorism-related information throughout the government by making information sharing an explicit factor in employee performance appraisals.

“We have taken a critical step toward ensuring that information sharing becomes ingrained in the way the federal government operates,” said Amb. Thomas McNamara, the ODNI Information Security Environment program manager, in an October 6 news release.

The policy (pdf) is particularly noteworthy as an effort to re-engineer the federal bureaucracy in favor of information sharing by creating new incentives that reward the desired actions.

Can it really be that easy? Can the bureaucracy effectively be reprogrammed by installing a suitable set of rewards? And in particular, could a similar policy be adopted that advances open government by designating appropriate public disclosure as a criterion for evaluating employee performance?

It would be extremely interesting to try, but there are reasons for skepticism.

For one thing, the new policy on information sharing emerges from and reinforces an existing consensus in favor of increased sharing; it doesn’t create that consensus. And no similar consensus exists in the current Administration in favor of increased public disclosure of information.

Furthermore, information sharing, as the term is used by officials, is nearly the opposite of public disclosure. Information sharing is predicated on the fact that what is to be shared is not to be made generally available to all comers. If it were openly available, it wouldn’t have to be “shared.”

Finally, the new policy has unfolded at an excruciatingly slow pace that doesn’t bode well for similar efforts. Incredibly, it has been almost three years since the President himself ordered agencies (in a December 16, 2005 memorandum) to adopt the new performance evaluation element for information sharing, and it may take years more before the newly announced policy is fully implemented in practice.

Meanwhile, information sharing is something of a policy phantom that has “had virtually no operational impact,” according to one particularly unfavorable assessment presented in testimony to Congress last month.

“Those of us willing to honestly address this issue will conclude that ‘information sharing’ has no clearly understood meaning, is poorly managed, and has been made overly complicated,” said former U.S. Attorney John McKay in September 24 testimony (pdf) before the House Homeland Security Committee.

“From a national perspective, there is no concept of success, no agreed-upon jurisdiction, no designated authority, no effective leadership. And despite the large sums of money being spent over the past decade and many, many promises, there remains no consensus on the way to proceed,” he said.