GAO Makes Recommendations to Improve Countering Violent Extremism Strategy, Data Governance

There were 81 fatal violent extremist attacks in the United States from 2010 through 2020, resulting in 240 deaths, according to an academic database that tracks extremist crime.

The Government Accountability Office reviewed the Department of Homeland Security’s strategy for preventing targeted violence and terrorism, including its efforts to counter violent extremism.

DHS’s strategy didn’t include all 7 elements of a successful strategy, such as a resource assessment for carrying it out. DHS could also do more to ensure it’s gathering and able to use quality data to evaluate the success of its strategy.

DHS’s 2019 Strategic Framework for Countering Terrorism and Targeted Violence and the related plans—collectively referred to as the strategy—outline the department’s vision for all DHS counterterrorism activities. In prior work, GAO has identified seven elements of a comprehensive strategy. GAO found that DHS’s strategy contains some but not all of the key elements (see figure). For example, GAO found that DHS’s strategy included a mission statement, and a set of goals that were in turn linked to objectives and priority actions. However, the strategy did not include a discussion of external factors such as how the economy, demographics, or emerging technologies may affect the department in meeting its goals. By identifying and assessing such external factors, DHS would be better positioned to proactively mitigate such factors or plan for contingencies, if needed.

DHS has taken some steps to establish a data governance framework, which helps ensure that an agency’s data assets are transparent, accessible, and of sufficient quality to support its mission. For example, DHS established a data governance council to manage various data priority areas, however it has not yet completed actions to include targeted violence and terrorism prevention data into its department-wide framework. DHS has already identified some data challenges, such as the lack of comprehensive, national-level statistics on terrorism and targeted violence that underscore the need for a data governance framework. By incorporating targeted violence and terrorism prevention data into its broader data governance framework, DHS would be better able to leverage data to support and inform its prevention efforts, including building effective policy to address the threats and trends it identifies in the data.

GAO is making three recommendations, including that DHS revise its strategy to include all key elements of a comprehensive strategy, and incorporate its targeted violence and terrorism prevention mission into its departmental governance of data.

Read the GAO report

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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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