IG faults IT management as a major challenge at DHS

Eight years after the Homeland Security Department opened its doors, it is struggling with aging and stove-piped information technology systems that cause inefficiencies in operation, according to a comprehensive report from the Office of Inspector General.

The report, titled “Major Management Challenges Facing the Department of Homeland Security,” was released on Dec. 9 by Acting Inspector General Charles Edwards. It is meant to be an annual comprehensive look at a broad array of systemic IT and management issues at the department. Much of the details have been reported in previous audits.

As in previous years, the report highlights nine critical areas, including management of IT, acquisition and financial reporting along with key missions such as border security and preparedness.

In terms of IT management, Edwards addresses weaknesses related to an alleged lack of integration of systems at the Coast Guard and between DHS and state and local fusion centers.

The Coast Guard’s command center and partner agency systems “are not sufficiently integrated,” Edwards wrote in the report. “These limitations had a variety of causes, including technical and cost barriers, aging infrastructure that is difficult to support, and stove-piped system development."

The end result: Field personnel rely on “inefficient workarounds to accomplish their mission,” Walker concluded.

Edwards also found problems in the way that DHS systems coordinate with state and local intelligence fusion centers. After the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, the fusion centers were created to be hubs of information sharing on threats.

At least two networks, the Homeland Security Information Network and the Homeland Security State and Local Community of Interest system were developed by DHS to help share information.

However, those two systems are not integrated, Edwards wrote in the report.

“As a result, users must maintain separate accounts, and information cannot easily be shared across the systems,” the report said. “Fusion center personnel also expressed concern that there were too many federal information sharing systems that were not integrated.”

Nonetheless, Edwards concluded that the department is moving forward on addressing the challenges.

“The department has made progress in coalescing into an effective organization, as well as addressing its key mission areas to secure our nation’s borders, increase our readiness and resiliency in the face of a terrorist threat or a natural disaster, and implement increased levels of security in our transportation systems and trade operations,” Edwards wrote.

Department officials, in a response, said they agreed with that assessment.

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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