Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), ranking member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, chastised the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) proposed reorganization of its Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosives (CBRNE) Program because of problems pointed out in a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) audit report.
GAO determined, “DHS documentation related to its proposed consolidation of [its CBRNE] programs offers some insights into benefits and limitations considered, but the information provided to GAO did not include several key factors to consider when evaluating an organizational consolidation.”
“While developing its consolidation plan,” GAO reported, “DHS identified strategic goals, such as eight near-term goals to be achieved within the first two years. DHS also considered problems its consolidation is intended to solve, including providing a clearer focal point for external and DHS component engagement on CBRNE issues.”
However, GAO found DHS did not fully assess and document potential problems that could result from consolidation; did not include a comparison of benefits and costs; and did not conduct limited external stakeholder outreach in developing the consolidation proposal and thus the proposal may not sufficiently account for stakeholder concerns.
“Attention to the these key areas, identified from GAO’s analysis of previous organizational consolidations, would help provide DHS, Congress and other stakeholders with assurance that important aspects of effective organizational change are addressed as part of the agency’s CBRNE reorganization decision-making process,” GAO stated.
GAO explained that, “Key mergers and organizational transformation practices identified in previous GAO work could benefit DHS if Congress approves the proposed CBRNE consolidation.”
GAO reported in July 2003 that “key practices and implementation steps for mergers and organizational transformations that range from ensuring top leadership drives the transformation to involving employees in the implementation process to obtain their ideas and gain their ownership for the transformation. In addition, the practices would be helpful in a consolidated CBRNE environment. For example, overall employee morale differs among the components to be consolidated, making the key practice of employee involvement to gain their ownership for the transformation a crucial step.”
Given the wide range of activities conducted by the consolidated entities, the key practice of establishing a coherent mission and integrated strategic goals to guide the transformation will be important.
The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016, prohibits DHS from using funds to establish a CBRNE office until Congress approves it, and, as of June 2016, Congress had not approved DHS’s consolidation proposal. However, should DHS receive this approval, consulting GAO’s key practices would help ensure that lessons learned from other organizations are considered.
Committee reports accompanying the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2013 directed DHS to undertake an in-depth review its weapons of mass destruction programs, including potential consolidation of CBRNE mission functions. DHS conducted its review, and in June 2015 provided a report to Congress, including a proposal to consolidate the agency’s core CBRNE functions. The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016 though prohibits DHS from using funds to establish a CBRNE program office until Congress approves it.
Acording to DHS’s 2014 Quadrennial Homeland Security Review report, “CBRNE threats are enduring areas of concern and that the consequences of such attacks are potentially high even though the likelihood of their occurrence is relatively low.”
“Further, GAO said, “the February 2015 National Security Strategy noted that no threat poses as grave a danger to our security and well-being as the potential use of nuclear weapons and materials by irresponsible states or terrorists.”
“The GAO’s review of the Department of Homeland Security’s proposal to consolidate certain activities related chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive defense confirms many of the concerns I had when Congress directed [DHS] to consider consolidating the programs in 2013, and again last year when the House moved legislation authorizing the consolidation,” Thompson stated.
“As I have cautioned in the past, reorganizations can be disruptive, and the impact on workforce morale can sometimes jeopardize the very programs the reorganization is intended to improve,” Thompson said.
“Despite reservations about legislation authorizing the Department’s proposed CBRNE reorganization, I did not oppose the bill, the Department of Homeland Security CBRNE Defense Act of 2015, as amended, because the department assured us that the reorganization, and any unintended consequences, had been thoroughly vetted,” Thompson added.
Continuing, Thompson said, “A key practice of successful reorganizations within federal agencies should be to establish a consistent mission and cohesive strategic goals to guide the makeover. Instead, GAO found that the [DHS] proposed this consolidation without fully assessing potential problems, without documenting associated costs and benefits, and without conducting thorough stakeholder outreach.”
In conclusion, Thompson said, “DHS’s CBRNE mission is too important to be handled this haphazardly, and I am disappointed that the Department submitted a reorganization request to Congress that was not ripe for action. The House-passed Department of Homeland Security CBRNE Defense Act is currently pending in the Senate, and I urge my colleagues there to weigh the GAO’s findings carefully should they choose to move forward in authorizing the proposed CBRNE reorganization.”