Inspector general finds watch list leadership lacking

DHS Inspector General's report: "DHS Challenges in Consolidating Terrorist Watch List Information"

Because of a lack of internal resources and infrastructure, Homeland Security Department officials have not provided the leadership to oversee consolidation of multiple terrorist watch lists, according to the department's inspector general.

According to the report, which was released Friday, the watch list consolidation of 12 separate systems and databases by nine federal agencies faces several challenges.

"In the absence of central oversight and a strategic approach to watch list consolidation, problems with uncoordinated interagency planning, budgeting, staffing, requirements definition, and policy management persist," Clark Kent Ervin, DHS' IG, wrote in the report.

Even when information was shared, it was not supported by common architectures, and there were a lack of policies and procedures such sharing, the report said. But that's not to say progress hasn't been made.

During the past year, government officials have created the Terrorist Threat Integration Center to share classified terrorist threat data and the Terrorist Screening Center to consolidate the various watch lists. The TSC includes representatives from various departments and agencies, including the FBI, State Department and several DHS agencies, to consolidate the information dissemination functions of the watch list process, especially between law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

Federal organizations that have responsibility for collecting and disseminating the information are overseeing the effort, according to the report. But DHS — and more specifically the Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection Directorate (IAIP) — can still play a more robust role by overseeing and coordinating the consolidation across agency lines, thus fulfilling its responsibility outlined by the Homeland Security Act of 2002, the report indicated.

The report said IAIP officials are struggling to hire staff with appropriate clearances, and they initially didn't have a "high-side" classified network or established procedures and guidelines for handling classified data. Although Ervin wrote the problems have merit, it doesn't preclude the IAIP from taking a greater oversight role in the consolidation.

"A senior IAIP official said that having more experienced federal agencies move ahead with watch list consolidation was the most expeditious way to proceed," according to the report. "However, several DHS officials said the expectation is to place the TSC under DHS control eventually."

However, Frank Libutti, who is the undersecretary for DHS' IAIP, said the agency strongly disagreed with the report's premise that either DHS or IAIP has lead responsibility in consolidating the watch lists.

In a letter to the IG's office, Libutti said the president gave authority to the Justice Department and Attorney General to oversee the effort through Homeland Security Presidential Directive 6. He said the Homeland Security Act never specifically mentions watch list consolidation, and DHS authority to oversee it is misplaced.

He rejected the four recommendations outlined in the report that DHS and IAIP clarify legal responsibilities of information sharing and establish and staff an interagency forum to oversee the consolidation.

Libutti also criticized the IG for releasing the report "given the sensitivity of this topic," he wrote. Several passages of the report were redacted.

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