GAO: DHS should merge net offices

The increasingly converged voice and data networks that the Homeland Security Department would rely on during emergencies are susceptible to disruptions because DHS has not merged the centers that monitor them, government auditors say.

The Government Accountability Office said DHS has not moved quickly enough to combine the two offices that monitor and secure its networks and the data that resides on them. In a report released June 26, GAO auditors explained that DHS had taken only one of three steps that a task force recommended for establishing an integrated operations center to monitor the department’s increasingly converged data and voice networks.

In November, DHS physically moved the National Coordinating Center for Telecommunications (NCC Watch), the operations center for communications infrastructure, to be next to the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team, the center focused on cyber situational awareness and response. To promote information sharing, the department has also acquired common software tools for the offices.

However, DHS has not organizationally merged the offices or allowed private-sector critical-infrastructure officials to participate at the operations center as recommended, the auditors said.
“A key factor contributing to DHS’ lack of progress in implementing these steps is that completing the integration is not a top priority,” the report states.

According to the report, DHS officials said they had been more focused on the administration’s cyber initiative. The department was drafting a strategic plan to guide the direction of the National Communications System, parent of the NCC, and National Cyber Security Division, which operates US-CERT. However, DHS did not provide a date when the plan would be ready.

GAO recommended that the department finish its strategic plan and define the tasks and milestones for completing the remaining integration steps.

In response, DHS agreed to continue work on integration of the two offices’ overlapping responsibilities. However, DHS officials disagreed with GAO’s statement that without a merger, the department was at risk of not being able to effectively respond to and plan for interruptions.

DHS said the offices have distinct functions that do not support merging them. 

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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