October 23, 2008

WASHINGTON — White House officials have asked the Department of Homeland Security to put on hold any new spending on an alert system that carries a price tag of more than $150 million, after government reports expressed doubts it will be widely used.

The system is the second generation of an initiative to provide sensitive but unclassified threat and emergency-response information to officials at all levels of government and in the private sector. The department’s problems are the latest example of the government’s struggle to develop technology for collecting data about national-security threats and getting it to the people who need it.

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Officials at the White House’s Office of Management and Budget told the Homeland Security Department not to spend any more money on the system until it can better demonstrate that it will work, government officials said.

“This is standard operating procedure in ensuring good value for taxpayer dollars,” said OMB spokeswoman Jane Lee.

Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke played down the significance of the action, saying it is “not uncommon for OMB to have questions” about such spending.

The department believes it will address the White House’s issues “in the next few weeks, and we’ll continue to move forward,” a department official said.

The beleaguered program is known as Homeland Security Information Network Next Generation. It is a portal that federal, state and local officials, as well as some in the private sector, can access via their computers. With a password, users can view data gathered by the department and tailored to their jobs, such as data on air-safety threats for an airport official.

However, many would-be users found the system hard to access and thought the information wasn’t valuable for their work, officials said. The first generation of the technology, with an estimated final cost of about $90 million, is being phased out, they said.


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