DHS still falls short on management and integration, GAO official says

Department still has work to do to integrate acquisitions, IT, human resources and financial systems

The Homeland Security Department has made progress in integrating its operations, but it remains at high risk of failing to complete that transformation successfully in IT and other areas, a senior Government Accountability Office executive said.

The department was created in 2003 by bringing together 22 existing agencies. DHS has been on GAO’s high-risk list since its formation because of the complexities of integrating acquisition, IT, financial and human resource operations for all the agencies.

The transformation into a fully functioning department is still a work in progress, Cathleen Berrick, managing director of homeland security and justice issues at GAO, told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee's Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce and the District of Columbia Subcommittee on Sept. 30.

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“In summary, DHS has made progress in implementing its management functions, but additional actions are needed to strengthen DHS’ efforts in these areas,” Berrick testified.

GAO noted several areas in which DHS needs to improve its management.

  • Progress on IT management has been uneven, and major programs, such as the SBInet virtual fence, have not met capability, benefit, cost and schedule expectations.
  • Although the DHS Acquisition Review Board evaluated 24 major acquisition programs in fiscal 2008 and 2009, more than 40 major programs have not been reviewed.
  • The department hasn't been able to get an unqualified audit opinion on its financial statements, and for fiscal 2009, the independent auditor identified six material weaknesses in DHS' internal controls.
  • DHS hasn't implemented a consolidated departmentwide financial management system.
  • It ranked 28 out of 32 federal organizations in employee satisfaction and commitment.
  • It hasn't developed performance measures to fully assess its progress in integrating management functions.

As of September, DHS had not provided GAO with an updated strategy or corrective actions plans to deal with the high-risk designation, Berrick added.

DHS Deputy Secretary Jane Holl Lute said at the hearing that the department worked with GAO and the Office of Management and Budget earlier this year to develop an initial integration strategy involving enterprise governance, a balanced workforce plan, headquarters consolidation, human resources, IT and data center migration.

In May, Lute said, she requested that departmental officials develop a comprehensive management approach to deal with the steps to be taken in terms of human resources, technology and processes.

“It’s clear that the department has made significant progress and is on the right track, yet we know we still have considerable work to do, and we look forward to working with the committee to continue the implementation of these critical reform efforts,” Lute testified.

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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