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GAO goes a little lighter on DHS criticism in high-risk report

Carper, Issa
release report

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) lightened up a bit on its criticism of DHS’s management in its report aimed at calling attention to high-risk areas in government agencies, but still found issues of concern at the agency.

The GAO issues its high risk list every two years at the start of a new Congress to highlight agencies and programs that need to pay particular attention to their vulnerabilities to fraud, waste, abuse and mismanagement, or are most in need of transformation.

The government watchdog agency’s report remained critical of DHS, saying it still has problems in some key areas, such as information sharing and analysis. However, it noted that the agency has seen progress in its abilities to address its sprawling range of missions and management. “While challenges remain for DHS to address across its range of missions, the department has made considerable progress in transforming its original component agencies into a single cabinet-level department and positioning itself to achieve its full potential,” said the report.

“Important strides have also been made in strengthening the department’s management functions and in integrating those functions across the department, particularly in recent years,” it said. It warned, however, that the agency can’t be complacent and has to continue to “mitigate the risks that management weaknesses pose to mission accomplishment and the efficient and effective use of the department’s resources.” In particular, it said, DHS has to keep an eye on implementing and strengthening key management initiatives, as well as address corrective actions.

Ultimately, GAO gave DHS something of an upgrade in its criticism marking the agency’s slow, but continuing progress. GAO narrowed the scope of agency’s high-risk area and changing the name from “Implementing and Transforming DHS” to “Strengthening DHS Management Functions” to reflect the new focus.

The report was released on Feb. 14 by Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee chairman Tom Carper (D-DE), along with House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA), and Comptroller General Gene Dodaro.

Despite the reports’ grudging upgrade for DHS, some Congressional homeland security leaders noted that the department remains on the list  -- as it has for years  --  and that is still a problem. House Homeland Security Committee chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX) said in a Feb. 14 the report backs some of his nagging concerns about DHS.

“The GAO high risk report underscores what our committee investigations have found – that DHS’s capabilities are not keeping pace with the threats against us,” he said. “The report found that DHS still has inadequate systems to share terror threat information because it lacks the infrastructure crucial to analyzing and sending this information to other agencies and private sector partners. Even more concerning is that this critical component of our national security has been listed as high risk since 2005.”

McCaul said the report also notes that DHS management “continues to squander billions of dollars by failing to manage its acquisitions, such as the more than $200 million spent on advanced nuclear and radiological detection equipment for a program that was ultimately cancelled.”

McCaul said until DHS can perform “simple, core functions” like acquisitions, procurements, financial systems and data collection, “the mission of protecting the homeland will be compromised.