DHS has IT oversight problems, IG finds

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The Homeland Security Department has made progress in managing its $5 billion in annual information technology investments but is still hindered from carrying out effective guidance and oversight, according to a new report from DHS Inspector General Richard Skinner.

The department has had difficulties in establishing an IT management structure since it opened in 2003. The IG reported in 2004 that DHS' chief information officer was not well-positioned with sufficient authority and staffing to manage IT assets and programs.

In a follow-up audit conducted in recent months, the IG found that department officials have taken steps toward centralized management of IT, with greater authority for the CIO, and enabling better oversight and improved IT governance. A 46-page report on the follow-up audit was posted today on the IG's Web site.

However, continued personnel shortages in the CIO’s office and inconsistent component-level IT budget practices have slowed progress. The CIO’s office in fiscal 2007 had 71 filled federal positions, 40 unfilled federal positions and 550 contractor positions, the report said.

The report also cited high turnover in the CIO’s office of approximately 47 percent a year for the past two years as a factor in contributing to lack of continuity in new initiatives. Officials blamed the personnel retention problems on frequent overtime and employee “burnout” from working long hours. “This creates a repetitive cycle of hiring new personnel who must work long hours to meet job demands,” the report said.

As new management-level staff members evaluate ongoing initiatives, efforts are reprioritized and initiatives may be canceled, the IG said, adding that historical context on programs and initiatives is lost.

Also, DHS components have not fully implemented management capabilities, such as strategic IT planning.

As a result of the problems, the CIO’s office is stymied in its ability to offer effective IT guidance and oversight, the report concluded. “The DHS CIO remains hindered in his ability to fully integrate IT management practices to ensure IT investments fulfill mission and infrastructure consolidation goals,” the report said. “DHS must address these challenges to achieve its IT goals.”

The IG recommended that the CIO update the office’s staffing plan, ensure that DHS’ 22 agencies submit comprehensive budgets, and develop and maintain IT strategic plans and enterprise architectures aligned with the department’s mission. DHS officials agreed with the recommendations.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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