Lawmakers assail DHS on responsiveness

The Department of Homeland Security continues to stonewall federal investigators who are trying to monitor DHS operations, and the delays are impeding much-needed oversight efforts.

That was the conclusion of lawmakers and Government Accountability Office officials yesterday after testimony detailed the problems at a House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Management, Investigations and Oversight.

Norman Rabkin, GAO’s managing director for homeland security and justice issues, told lawmakers that his office is having difficulties completing reviews of DHS programs in a timely fashion because of the delays.

“We often wait for months for information which in some cases could be provided immediately,” Rabkin said.

In one case, lawmakers asked GAO to review the effectiveness of a DHS emergency preparedness exercise in June 2006. GAO hoped to release the subsequent report in November 2006, but the requested documents from DHS were not received until March 2007. Thus, auditors will not issue the report until later this year, Rabkin said.

“Days turn into weeks, weeks turn into months,” Rabkin said.

Rep. Christopher Carney (D-Penn.), who is the subcommittee chairman, and Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), who is the full committee chairman, both called the stonewalling problems unacceptable.

“When the GAO or the [Inspector General] request documents or witnesses, the department needs to produce them, not shuffle the request from one layer of bureaucracy to another,” Thompson said.

In response to the criticisms, Paul Schneider, DHS’ Undersecretary for Management, said his agency realized the seriousness of the problem. Schneider came to DHS only four months ago, capping a long civil service career, and was surprised by the delays.

“I’ve worked with GAO and IG investigators for 40 years. And frankly, I’ve never experienced problems such as the ones being discussed today,” Schneider said. “We need to do a better job.”

Schneider said that his agency already has made some progress in addressing the situation.

For example, in annual performance reviews, more DHS employees now will be graded on how timely they respond to requests for information from oversight officials.

And DHS already has started exploring ways to speed up responses to information requests.

“We do not have the right procedures in place to get information to the surface,” Schneider said.

Going forward, DHS hopes to provide more training on the matter, and provide more guidance for employees on how to work with federal oversight officials, he added.

Carney said his subcommittee would continue to monitor the situation closely.

“If there is a problem, I will hear about it. And that means you will hear about it,” Carney said to Schneider.

Mark Tarrallo is a freelancer writer in Washington, D.C.


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