Homeland placed at 'high risk'

GAO's 2003 Performance and Accountability Series and High Risk Series

The potential problems surrounding the new Homeland Security Department are serious enough that the General Accounting Office has added the start-up of the department to its governmentwide high-risk list, officials announced today.

The administration and Congress already have taken many steps to ensure that the department comes together as smoothly as possible, but the sheer size of the task weighs heavily against it, said David Walker, U.S. comptroller general. He was speaking at a press conference to announce the release of the latest performance and high-risk report.

"We believe it can be successful, but we believe it is a challenge," he said.

In other major areas highlighted in GAO's 2003 Performance and Accountability Series and High Risk Series — including information technology, information security and workforce management — agencies have made progress in the past two years. However, more needs to be done before GAO will be ready to remove those topics from the list, and that will require combined attention and effort from the executive and legislative branches, Walker said.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), chairwoman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, and Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, pledged to focus their committees' attention on the issues raised in the report.

"It's very disturbing to me that programs are on the list [for years] without there being significant progress," Collins said. "We have not been aggressive enough in our oversight of these programs."

Davis cited interoperability problems with IT systems as a major cause for concern. It has received significant attention from the Bush administration and in recent legislation, such as the E-Government Act of 2002.

However, it will take time to solve those problems, according to Davis. "It is not a quick fix; this is complex," he said.

Walker agreed. "It is going to take time, it's going to cost money, and we've got to stay on top of it."

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