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DHS Needs to ‘Overcome Challenges’ Hindering its Efforts, IG Says; GAO High-Risk List: DHS Showing Improvement

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has progressed in addressing challenges to accomplish its mission, “however, to fulfill its vital mission of protecting and securing our nation successfully, the department must continue to overcome challenges that hinder its efforts,” DHS Inspector General John Roth recently told the House Committee on Homeland Security Subcommittee on Oversight and Management Efficiency.

Roth said by addressing his office’s recommendations, “DHS can continue to improve effectiveness and efficiency of its operations and reduce waste, fraud and abuse.”

The recommendations “demonstrate our efforts to assist the department and its components in overcoming [its] persistent challenges,” he stated.

Roth noted DHS faces many long-standing challenges, but focusedits “energy” on six of the department’s major management and performance challenges:

  • Creating a unified department;
  • Employee morale and engagement;
  • Acquisition management;
  • Grants management;
  • Cybersecurity; and
  • Improving management fundamentals.

Roth told the subcommittee, “DHS’ primary challenge moving forward is transitioning from an organization of 22 semi-independent components, each conducting its affairs without regard to, and often without knowledge of, other DHS components’ programs and operations, to a more cohesive entity focused on the central mission of protecting the homeland. A lack of coordination and unity occurs in all aspects of DHS’ programs—planning, programing, budgeting and execution—and leads to waste and inefficiency … Our previous audit and inspection reports are replete with examples of the consequences of failing to act as a single entity.”

Roth said, “DHS has made recent progress in tone and substance,” and during the last three years “DHS leadership has taken steps to forge multiple components into a single organization. New policies and directives have been created to ensure cohesive budget planning and execution, including ensuring a joint requirements process. The department also has a process to identify and analyze its mission responsibilities and capabilities, with an eye toward understanding how components fit together and how each adds value to the enterprise. A new method for coordinating operations, the Southern Border and Approaches Campaign, was created to try to reduce the silos and redundancy.”

However, he added, “in our report issued last November describing the department’s major management challenges, we found that this progress has been a result of the force of will of a small team within the department’s leadership, and may not be sustainable. We warned that absent structural changes within the department to ensure streamlined oversight, communication, responsibility and accountability—changes that we believed must be enshrined in law—that this progress could be undone.”

Meanwhile, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) stated in its latest high-risk series audit report that while DHS’s top leadership has demonstrated exemplary commitment and support for addressing the department’s management challenges, DHS still “needs to continue implementing its Integrated Strategy for High Risk Management and maintain engagement with us to show measurable, sustainable progress in implementing corrective actions and achieving outcomes. In 2003, we designated implementing and transforming DHS as high risk because DHS had to transform 22 agencies—several with major management challenges—into one department. Further, failure to effectively address DHS’s management and mission risks could have serious consequences for US national and economic security. Given the significant effort required to build and integrate a department as large and complex as DHS, our initial high-risk designation addressed the department’s implementation and transformation efforts to include associated management and programmatic challenges. At that time, we reported that the creation of DHS was an enormous undertaking that would take time to achieve, and that successfully transforming large organizations, even those undertaking less strenuous reorganizations, could take years to implement.”

GAO reported that, “Over the past 14 years, the focus of this high-risk area has evolved in tandem with DHS’s maturation and evolution. The overriding tenet has consistently remained DHS’s ability to build a single, cohesive and effective department that is greater than the sumof its parts—a goal that requires effective collaboration and integration of its various components and management functions. In 2007, in reporting on DHS’s progress since its creation, as well as in our 2009 high-risk update, we reported that DHS had made more progress in implementing its range of missions than its management functions—acquisition, information technology (IT), financial and human capital—and that continued work was needed to address an array of management and programmatic challenges. As we reported in September 2011, DHS’s initial focus on mission implementation was understandable given the critical homeland security needs facing the nation after the department’s establishment, and the challenges posed by creating, integrating and transforming it.”

Continuing, GAO state, “As DHS continued to mature, and as we reported in our assessment of DHS’s progress and challenges in the 10 years following 9/11, we found that the department implemented key homeland security operations and achieved important goals in many areas to create and strengthen a foundation to reach its potential. For example, DHS developed strategic and operational plans to guide its efforts—such as the National Response Framework that outlines disaster response guiding principles—and successfully hired, trained and deployed workforces, including the federal screening workforce to assume screening responsibilities at airports nationwide.”

“However,” GAO said, “we also found that more work remained for DHS to address weaknesses in other areas of its operational and implementation efforts. For example, we reported in 2011 that DHS had not yet determined how to implement a biometric exit capability, had taken action to address a small portion of the estimated overstay population in the United States and needed to strengthen efforts to assess national capabilities for all-hazards preparedness. We further reported that continuing weaknesses in implementing and integrating DHS’s management functions continued to affect the department’s implementation efforts.”

In concluding, GAO said, “Recognizing DHS’s progress in mission implementation and transformation, our 2011 high-risk update focused on the department’s continued need to strengthen and integrate its management functions. In our 2013 high-risk update, we found DHS had made considerable progress in strengthening and integrating its management functions, but challenges remained and progress was needed to mitigate the risks that management weaknesses posed to DHS’s ability to accomplish its mission and use its resources efficiently and effectively. Therefore, in 2013 we narrowed the scope of the high-risk area and changed the name from Implementing and Transforming the Department of Homeland Security to Strengthening Department of Homeland Security Management Functions to reflect this focus. In our 2015 high-risk update, we found DHS’s top leadership had continued to demonstrate exemplary commitment to and support for addressing the department’s management challenges and that DHS had made important progress in strengthening its management functions. However, we also found DHS continued to face significant management challenges that hindered its ability to achieve its missions and concluded that DHS needed to continue to demonstrate sustainable, measureable progress in addressing key challenges that remained within and across its management functions.”

“I am pleased to see GAO has found that significant progress has been made with regard to terrorism related information sharing,” said Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), ranking member of the Committee on Homeland Security. “During my tenure on the committee …, strengthening terrorism related information sharing between federal, state, local and tribal partners has been a top focus of mine, and I am pleased to see this area removed from the high risk list.”

“I am also encouraged that GAO acknowledged the Department of Homeland Security has made progressin meeting additional criteria necessary to have its management functions removed from the high-risk list,” he said, noting, “This improvement is a reflection of the hard work and commitment provided by former DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson, who in is his exit memorandum emphasized the importance of unity of effort and an aggressive campaign to improve employee morale at the department.”

Thompson said, “It is my hope that the Trump administration and [DHS] Secretary [John] Kelly continue moving the department in a positive direction and addresses the remaining management improvement needs, such as better information technology modernization and human capital management. It is also my hope that the department, as well as the Trump administration, understands the value of independent oversight provided by agencies such as GAO in the success of its mission.”

Homeland Security Todayhttp://www.hstoday.us
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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