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GAO Finds Progress at DHS on Strengthening Management Functions

Shortly after the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was formed, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) designated implementing and transforming DHS as a high-risk area to the federal government because it had to transform 22 agencies—several with major management challenges—into one department.

Shortly after the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was formed, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) designated implementing and transforming DHS as a high-risk area to the federal government because it had to transform 22 agencies—several with major management challenges—into one department.

GAO has now provided an update on the progress made. The government watchdog’s latest statement is based on reports in GAO’s high-risk series, including its most recent March 2021 update, as well as selected updates on DHS’s efforts as of September 2021. 

In 2013, GAO reported that challenges remained for DHS across its range of missions, but that the department had made considerable progress transforming its original component agencies into a single cabinet-level department. As a result, GAO narrowed the scope of the high-risk area to focus on strengthening DHS management functions—specifically acquisition, information technology, financial, and human capital management.

DHS’s efforts to strengthen and integrate its management functions have resulted in the department meeting 3 of 5 criteria for removal from GAO’s High-Risk List—demonstrating leadership commitment, having an action plan, and monitoring the effectiveness of its actions. DHS has partially met the remaining two criteria for removal—having sufficient capacity and demonstrating progress.

Several factors contributed to DHS’s success in narrowing the scope of the high-risk area. DHS’s top leaders demonstrated leadership commitment and support for addressing the department’s challenges, which helped ensure sustained, consistent progress in this high-risk area. In addition, DHS consistently communicated its efforts and regularly sought constructive and specific feedback from GAO on its strategy and approach to addressing the high-risk area.

Continued progress for this high-risk area depends on DHS addressing its remaining management challenges. For example, GAO says DHS needs to make additional progress identifying and allocating resources in acquisition and financial management. For instance, the watchdog says DHS lacks acquisition support staffing plans and has not clearly defined which acquisition positions are critical for oversight responsibilities, limiting DHS’s insight into whether it has appropriate staff to carry out its duties.

DHS’s financial statement auditor also identified several capacity-related issues, including resource limitations and inadequate staff training, resulting in material weaknesses in its 2020 financial statements.

DHS has work remaining to demonstrate progress implementing corrective measures. Specifically, of the 30 outcome measures GAO uses to gauge the department’s progress, DHS has not yet fully addressed 12 of 30 measures. For example, DHS needs to effectively implement its long-term financial systems modernization efforts and use department-wide training data to inform its human capital programs.

Read the full report at GAO

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The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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