GAO Report Finds DHS Performance Lacking

The Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) recent 4-year anniversary provides an opportunity to reflect on the progress the agency has made since its establishment. A new report from the Government Accounting Office (GAO) says that while the agency has made some progress, more is needed.

DHS began operations in March 2003 with the mission to prevent terrorist attacks within the United States, reduce vulnerabilities, minimize damages from attacks and aid in recovery efforts. GAO reported that the creation of DHS was an enormous management challenge and that the size, complexity and importance of the effort made the challenge especially daunting and critical to the nation's security. According to GAO, successful transformations of large organizations, even those faced with less strenuous reorganizations than DHS, can take at least 5 to 7 years to achieve.

GAO was asked to report on DHS's progress in implementing its mission and management areas and challenges DHS faces. The report from GAO, Department of Homeland Security: Progress Report on Implementation of Mission and Management Functions
(GAO-07-454), also discusses key themes that have affected DHS's implementation efforts.

At the time of its creation in 2003 as one of the largest federal reorganizations in the last several decades, GAO designated the implementation and transformation of DHS as a high-risk area due to the magnitude of the challenges it confronted in areas vital to the physical and economic well being of the nation. Four years into its overall integration effort, DHS has attained "some level of progress in all of its mission and management areas," according to GAO.

"The rate of progress, however, among these areas varies," says the report. "Key underlying themes have affected DHS's implementation efforts, and will be essential for the department to address as it moves forward." These include management, risk management, information sharing and partnerships and coordination. For example, while DHS has made progress in transforming its component agencies into a fully functioning department, it has not yet addressed key elements of the transformation process, such as developing a comprehensive strategy for agency transformation and ensuring that management systems and functions are integrated.

"This lack of a comprehensive strategy and integrated management systems and functions limits DHS's ability to carry out its homeland security responsibilities in an effective, risk-based way," claims the report.

According to the report, "DHS also has not yet fully adopted and applied a risk management approach in implementing its mission and management functions. Some DHS component agencies, such as the Transportation Security Administration and the Coast Guard, have taken steps to do so, but DHS has not yet taken sufficient actions to ensure that this approach is used departmentwide."

In addition, DHS has taken steps to share information and coordinate with homeland security partners, but has faced difficulties in these partnership efforts, such as in ensuring that the private sector receives better information on potential threats. "Given DHS's dominant role in securing the homeland, it is critical that the department's mission and management programs are operating as efficiently and effectively as possible," says the report.

GAO acknowledges such advances will be difficult, noting DHS has had to undertake these responsibilities while also working to transform itself into a fully functioning cabinet department, which GAO calls "a difficult task for any organization.

"As DHS moves forward, it will be important for the department to continue to develop more measurable goals to guide implementation efforts and to enable better accountability of its progress toward achieving desired outcomes. It will also be important for DHS to continually reassess its mission and management goals, measures, and milestones to evaluate progress made, identify past and emerging obstacles, and examine alternatives to address those obstacles and effectively implement its missions," says GAO.

The full report is available for download at http://www.gao.gov/docsearch/abstract.php?rptno=GAO-07-454.

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