Congress approves DHS audits

The House and Senate passed a bill subjecting the Homeland Security Department to outside accounting audits and requiring Senate confirmation for the position of DHS chief financial officer.

The DHS Financial Accountability Act, which seeks to apply the Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990 to the agency, passed the Senate by unanimous consent Sept. 29 after earlier approval by the House. President Bush is expected to sign the legislation into law. The act allows the current CFO to remain in office for 180 days before the Senate confirmation requirement kicks in.

The department has been the largest federal entity to operate without financial audits since its creation two years ago by amalgamating 22 separate agencies. Presidential approval would make DHS the 24th federal entity to come under the purview of the CFO Act.

Proponents contend the bill ensures the CFO Act is applied consistently across the executive branch. "This measure puts the CFO at DHS on equal footing with all other cabinet-level departments by requiring Senate confirmation," said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Todd Platts (R-Pa.), House chairman of the Government Reform Committee's Government Efficiency and Financial Management Subcommittee.

"Having an auditor issue an opinion on internal controls will help uncover inherent weaknesses and address problems as business practices are being established -- before they become ingrained," he wrote in a statement following the Senate's passage of the bill.

DHS officials have argued the legislation is unnecessary because they already voluntarily fulfill its provisions. "This legislation will not alter the way in which I perform my job, nor will it provide me any tools, reporting structures, or other authorities that I do not have today," department CFO Andrew Maner told the subcommittee in written testimony earlier this year.

Maner also argued that an independent financial audit of the agency "could be costly in dollars and staff time and may not bring the level of benefits to the agency that it might be intended to provide," as he told the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee's Financial Management, the Budget and International Security Subcommittee in July.

Bush administration officials have also opposed the bill on the grounds that it requires the CFO to report directly to the department secretary, which contradicts efforts to consolidate DHS management responsibilities under the undersecretary for management.

About the Author

David Perera is a special contributor to Defense Systems.

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