(GAO photo)

OIG Criticizes ‘Weak Internal Controls and Management Fundamentals’ in Memo to DHS

A blistering memorandum released by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General criticized DHS leadership for “weak internal controls and management fundamentals.”

The memo, sent Nov. 9 from Acting Inspector General John V. Kelly to DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, says that the department was unprepared to implement President Trump’s zero-tolerance immigration policy, that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facilities were under-equipped and poorly staffed and that DHS has no system in place to manage and oversee staff misconduct allegations.  

“Based on our observations in the field, we determined that DHS was not fully prepared to implement the Administration’s Zero Tolerance Policy or to deal with some of its after-effects,” said the memo. “Among other challenges, DHS had difficulty identifying, tracking, and reunifying families separated under the Zero Tolerance Policy due to limitations with IT systems, including a lack of integration among ICE’s (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement), CBP’s (U.S. Customs and Border Patrol) and Department of Health and Human Services’ systems. DHS struggled to provide accurate, complete, reliable data on family separations and reunifications, raising concerns about the accuracy of its reporting.”

READ: DHS Secretary Affirms Commitment to Mission Amid Dismissal Rumors

The Major Management and Performance Challenges Facing the Department of Homeland Security report was released as speculation mounts over whether Nielsen is on her way out. Nielsen was confirmed to her post in December 2017.

Jim H. Crumpacker, the director of the Government Accountability Office-OIG Liaison Office, responded that the memo does not appreciate the progress made by the department on multiple fronts. 

“The OIG’s report provides valuable insights; however, the Department is concerned the report does not seem to equitably balance the challenges the Department faces with the progress made in addressing those challenges,” Crumpacker wrote. “In addition, senior leadership believes that OIG’s characterization of internal controls could leave readers of the report with a mistaken impression about DHS efforts and successes achieved in implementing effective internal controls and incorporating management fundamentals in programs and operations across components, as it relates to the fulfillment of the Department’s vital border security, immigration, law enforcement and national preparedness missions, and protection and securing our nation.”

OIG also found that management failed to comply with detention standards in out of four of five Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facilities.

“For example, some detainees were housed incorrectly based on their criminal history; others were strip searched in violation of standards; and staff did not always use available language services to facilitate communication with detainees,” said the report. “Some facility staff reportedly deterred detainees from filing grievances and did not thoroughly document resolution of grievances. The problems we identified undermine the protection of detainees’ rights, their humane treatment and the provision of a safe and healthy environment.” 

OIG found in its September review of the zero-tolerance policy that DHS regulating the number of asylum-seekers while simultaneously telling asylum seekers to come to ports of entry “may have caused more illegal border crossings.”

OIG also found: 

  • At JFK International Airport, despite legislative requirements to systematically target and widely prevent illegal imports, CBP inspects only a limited number of the hundreds of thousands of pieces of incoming air mail each day, largely due to difficulty inventorying and locating targeted mail, as well as inadequate guidance, equipment, and resources.
  • Acquisition program management continues to be one of the department’s significant challenge areas. Issues with staffing, funding, and defining the department’s requirements increase the likelihood that major acquisition projects will cost more and take longer than expected to complete.
  • While the United States Coast Guard approved approximately $1.8 billion in IT procurements between fiscal years 2014 and 2016, it does not know if almost 400 information systems are receiving proper acquisition oversight.
  • DHS had problems managing its acquisition of the Performance and Learning Management System, and did not effectively implement its acquisition methodology or monitor contractor performance. 

ARCHIVE: ‘We Do Not, at the Department of Homeland Security, Detain Children,’ Nielsen Tells Senators

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Multimedia journalist James Cullum has reported for over a decade to newspapers, magazines and websites in the D.C. metro area. He excels at finding order in chaotic environments, from slave liberations in South Sudan to the halls of the power in Washington, D.C.

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