GAO: Tech plays homeland role

Homeland Security. Management Challenges Facing Federal Leadership

Information technology has a major stake in the new Homeland Security Department's success, according to a General Accounting Office report released last month.

Financial management and other systems are crucial to getting the department — a consolidation of 22 agencies and 170,00 people — off the ground, GAO officials said.

"The organizational transition of the various components will simply be the starting point — as implementation challenges beyond the first year should be expected in building a fully integrated department, and could take five to 10 years to fully implement the department in an effective and sustainable manner," Patricia Dalton, GAO's director of strategic issues, wrote in a Dec. 20 letter to Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), who requested the review.

Since the terrorist attacks in September 2001, federal agencies have made progress in meeting homeland security missions and improving information sharing. But more remains to be done, according to the report.

For one, a greater emphasis on collaboration with state and local governments and the private sector is needed, GAO found.

"Improvements in leveraging information technology will also be necessary to enhance not only the effective utilization of management systems, but also to increase information sharing among and between all parties," Dalton wrote.

GAO made several recommendations that included the Office of Management and Budget's developing an effective transition plan for the department and helping it implement management practices and principles. Additionally, the Office of Personnel Management, with OMB, should work on a long-term human capital strategy, officials said.

"The creation and integration of the new department will only be achieved through a realistic and aggressive strategy that, to the largest extent possible, quickly and seamlessly merges important homeland security components into a cohesive entity capable of protecting the nation from terrorism," Dalton wrote.

President Bush signed legislation creating the department in November 2001.

Office of Homeland Security officials told GAO they had no comments. OMB, meanwhile, submitted technical notes that were incorporated in the report and OPM agreed with the recommendations.

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