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Sunday, July 21, 2024

GAO Says DHS Joint Requirements Council Needs Leadership Attention

Several component agencies have a role to play in countering UAS threats, including the Federal Protective Service, Transportation Security Administration, U.S. Coast Guard, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) spends billions annually on IT systems, aircraft, and other major acquisitions programs. Since many programs have overlapping needs, DHS established the Joint Requirements Council (JRC) to help different parts of the agency find common solutions.

But a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) says that while the council was designed to make recommendations to DHS leadership, agency leaders haven’t regularly engaged with the council, limiting the council’s potential to help. Also, GAO found the council hasn’t followed its own guidance when approving “joint capability” projects.

The GAO review found that since 2018, the JRC has designated five capabilities as joint. However, the watchdog also found that JRC validated four of these as joint capabilities even though the documents that components submitted to assess the capability did not fully meet key criteria required in its guidance. 

One such capability designated as joint is countering unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) threats including preparing for events, deploying UAS, detecting and identifying UAS, and assessing threat levels, among others. While joint capabilities were directed by leadership or statute, the JRC also assisted the department with early development efforts in some of these areas. For example, in January 2018, the JRC established the Counter-Unmanned Aircraft System working group, which developed scenarios to inform proposed legislation and capability analyses. Later that same year, Congress granted DHS the authorities to mitigate unmanned aircraft threats. In June this year, DHS released a video package for broadcast including comments from Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas on the need for Congress to reauthorize and expand DHS’s Counter-UAS authorities. Several component agencies have a role to play in countering UAS threats, including the Federal Protective Service, Transportation Security Administration, U.S. Coast Guard, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The remaining areas designated as joint capabilities are the tactical intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance network, persistent wide-area maritime surveillance, immigration data integration, and enterprise analytic services and processes.

The JRC was established to be a recommending body to DHS leadership but GAO found leadership has not regularly engaged with the JRC. For example, it did not participate in the review and validation of the joint capabilities that JRC designated for its attention, and it has not met with the JRC since 2015. JRC officials told GAO that without leadership engagement it is hard to identify the next steps for joint capabilities.

DHS plans to realign the JRC from reporting to the Office of the Secretary to the Office of the Chief Readiness Support Officer within the Management Directorate. However, GAO found that this realignment could limit the JRC’s ability to independently oversee the requirements development process because it would not be a separate management function. 

The JRC has been limited in its ability to fulfill its responsibilities outside of JRIMS execution due in part to workforce challenges, but GAO found that DHS has not conducted an assessment to determine the appropriate number and mix of staff needed. Over the last several years, JRC staffing, including support provided by contractor personnel, has been reduced to the point that the office, according to JRC officials, has only been able to fulfill select functions and is unable to execute many of their responsibilities. JRC officials told GAO that in recent years, DHS removed three full-time positions, which required staff to assume multiple roles outside their descriptions. In addition, the JRC previously commissioned the RAND Corporation to conduct a review of the JRC’s operations. RAND found that the JRC faced significant staffing challenges such as having a sufficient number of staff to execute all of their delegated responsibilities.

DHS officials said proposals for funding and staffing levels of the JRC will be restored in future years, as appropriate, once the JRC transitions from the Office of the Secretary to the Office of the Chief Readiness Support Officer. The department’s budget submission for fiscal year 2024 provides $3 million to support the transfer of the JRC to the Office of the Chief Readiness Support Officer. Of the $3 million, $1.7 million is proposed to fund 11 full time equivalent positions and $1.3 million is proposed for program funding. GAO points out that this is a decrease from previous years when the department received approximately $4.8 million for JRC operations, including salaries and contracts, from fiscal years 2019 through 2021.

GAO also found that the Office of the Chief Readiness Officer, which oversees department-wide logistics, had the fewest responsibilities in the Management Directorate that aligned with the JRC’s mission. The government watchdog said the office is also not well-positioned to assist the JRC with overseeing DHS’s requirements development process because it is not a principal member of the Council. 

GAO is making six recommendations to DHS, including that it ensures the JRC demonstrates that joint capability documents fully meet key criteria prior to validating them; ensures regular engagement between the JRC and leadership; and reconsiders the placement of the JRC. DHS concurred with all six recommendations.

Read the full report at GAO

Kylie Bielby
Kylie Bielby
Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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