Walker: DHS still stuck in management muddle

The Homeland Security Department is still plagued by serious management shortcomings and has no solid plan to address them, Comptroller General David Walker said May 10 at a Senate committee hearing.

DHS has been on the Government Accountability Office's list of high-risk agencies since 2003 because of various management deficiencies. GAO’s most recent review found DHS has made some progress in fixing its problems, but the department remains on the list, Walker said.

“They still lack a plan to get off GAO’s high-risk list…and the department has yet to perform a full risk management assessment,” Walker said at the hearing held by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Government Management.

One specific area of concern at DHS is workforce management, Walker said. In the 2006 Federal Human Capital Survey, DHS ranked near the bottom in all categories, including job satisfaction. “There are serious morale and other challenges that won’t be solved overnight,” Walker said.

Other DHS deficiencies, according to GAO, include the lack of a strategic framework for information management, unreliable financial systems, and a shortage of outcome-based measurements in assessing programs.

In response, Paul Schneider, an undersecretary for management at DHS, said his agency planned to move forward with many reform measures. These include initiatives to address staffing shortages, improve procurement processes and develop world-class information technology systems.

Addressing the agency’s poor performance in employee management -- as reflected by the survey -- is a top priority, he said.

“This is an area that is critical, and we hope to focus on it first,” Schneider said.

Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio), the ranking member on the subcommittee, said he believed part of DHS’s problem was that it had to spend too much time dealing with oversight requests -- time that could be spent on more mission-critical functions.

“We shove it [oversight] down your throat, you can’t get the job done, and when things go wrong, we blame you,” Voinovich said.

Voinovich also said that he hoped DHS would move ahead rapidly with reform, and then get off GAO’s high-risk list by the end of the year.

“Don’t bet a lot of money on it, Senator,” Walker joked.

Mark Tarallo is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C.

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