DHS finds merger no small task

In the year since the Homeland Security Department was created, officials have made progress in combining the activities of 22 agencies and 180,000 employees, but significant challenges remain, not the least of which is sharing information across the department.

An internal review listed a number of critical challenges, including integrating systems and improving security. The report, released March 24 by the Office of the Inspector General, states that DHS has made "significant progress in addressing all of its management challenges." But planned improvements in grants and financial management, border protection, intelligence efforts, and technology upgrades will take five to seven years to implement.

The 80-page report, which relied on earlier investigations and more recent assessments, is not an audit and does not contain recommendations except those previously made in other reports. Instead, it describes DHS' achievements and challenges.

"It's sort of a baseline right now of where we are," said Tamara Faulkner, a spokeswoman for DHS' IG. "It's a general overview, and we will be looking in-depth at these issues as we move along."

Last week at the FOSE trade show in Washington, D.C., DHS' chief information officer Steve Cooper said officials have set an aggressive goal to consolidate 22 networks into one by December.

"What we're going to put in place now has got to be real," Cooper said. "It's got to be operational."

The CIO's office is also set to release the second version of its enterprise architecture report this summer, which will likely help the push toward information sharing.

The report states that information technology is crucial for supporting various programs departmentwide, and effective management of IT is not only critical but mandated by legislation.

I.M. "Mac" Destler, a University of Maryland professor who has written about DHS' reorganization, said he had not read the IG's report, but noted that DHS has made great progress in border and aviation security, a point underscored in the report.

However, DHS officials "haven't delivered in terms of both financial support and effective communication with state/local authorities," he said.

Critics said the report reveals critical gaps in securing the nation.

"This administration is not doing all it can to keep America as safe as it needs to be," said Rep. Jim Turner (D-Texas), ranking minority member of the House Select Committee on Homeland

Security.

Sarita Chourey contributed to this story.

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