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DHS Creates Solid Framework for Strong Data Sharing

DHS and USCIS strive to achieve credible, dependable and comprehensive data in order to make informed decisions at strategic and operational levels.
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Secretary Mayorkas signs the Biometric Data Sharing Partnership Letter of Intent with Minister of Government Reyes.
Secretary Mayorkas signs the Biometric Data Sharing Partnership Letter of Intent with Minister of Government Reyes. Photo Credit: Zachary Hupp / Department of Homeland Security

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is working to provide line-of-sight data across the agency to encourage transparency and gain an operational advantage over adversaries, DHS Deputy Chief Data Officer Carlene Ileto said at a recent FCW event.

DHS wants to ensure the data shared across its components is visible, accessible, transparent, linkable and trustworthy. Data trustworthiness, interoperability and security are three key hallmarks of the department’s data strategy.

“Data-sharing agreements are the primary vehicle used to share information from external parties to better understand the access of data, the use of data, and whether the data involves a third party, and the classification and handling of data,” Ileto said.

In order to share data appropriately, a common data standard should be in place to allow for maximum interoperability. The National Information Exchange Model (NIEM) is the standard of choice for DHS.

“We think of NIEM as a dictionary of agreed upon terms, definitions and formats and it also provides consistency and readability of data sets between internal and external entities and that’s extremely important,” Ileto said.

Meanwhile, an agency within DHS is working hard to accomplish its goal of fostering a data-driven culture.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is trying to build a better infrastructure and improve data sharing not just within the agency, but also across DHS and externally to other federal agencies.

USCIS’ “Operation Allies Welcome” (OAW) effort deployed data-sharing agreements and policies to assist Afghan refugees resettling in the U.S. after the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021.

The effort has also been responsive to the needs of certain populations, according to USCIS Deputy CDO Courtney A. Winship.

“It’s helped the Afghan population get the benefits and services they were eligible for. It’s also helped people move more easily through the process and gives a better understanding of people’s medical and housing needs, which has really opened the doors for agencies to share more and more,” Winship said.

Good data-sharing practices can reduce lead times and ease accessibility, which is important for helping organizations develop data-driven culture.

“Getting the data to the right person, at the right time when they need it and, in a manner, they can understand, game on, you have now provided a useful resource with data to parties to make a decision, make an action and perform our operations better,” said Damian Kostiuk, data analytics division chief at USCIS.

Ileto said “data is the new oil in federal government” due to its potential to progress modernization efforts. “We need to use it as much as possible in order to help us to progress and make evidence-based decisions,” she added.

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