Accountable Strategies blog

A blog about accountability issues in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors

Continuing problems at Homeland Security

Posted by David Kassel on September 12, 2007

The Government Accountability Office has found that managerial problems are continuing to hamper virtually all the major functions at the Department of Homeland Security, the mega-agency entrusted to protect us against terrorist threats and other disasters.

In the wake of a critical report in April by the DHS Inspector General, I wondered here whether DHS’s management problems stem from poor appointments made by the president of top administrators at DHS, or whether the Bush administration has established an inappropriate or ineffective accountability system in the agency.

 The latest GAO report does give DHS credit for having taken important steps during the past four years “to secure the nation’s borders and transportation sector and to protect, defend against, and respond to threats and disasters.”  At the same time, GAO found that an “array of management and programmatic challenges continues to limit DHS’s ability to fulfill its homeland security roles in an effective, risk-based way.” 

The report notes that the ongoing management problems may stem, in part, from the sheer difficulty of combining 22 different agencies, which was done in creating DHS in 2002.  Successful transformations of large organizations can take five to seven years to achieve, the GAO stated. 

That may be the case, but given the sense of national emergency that resulted in the creation of DHS, one would think that every effort would have been made to successfully transform the agency as quickly as possible.  That just doesn’t seem to have been the case.  At least that’s the impression I got from reading the latest GAO report on DHS’s inability thus far to achieve so many key “performance expectations.”

For instance,  according to the GAO, DHS has not adequately assessed levels of risk or vulnerability to attack in many areas—-a necessary step in determining where best to put the agency’s resources.  One DHS agency, the Transportation Security Agency (TSA), has not yet “conducted assessments of air cargo vulnerabilities.”    

 Also, despite developing a number of systems to prevent potential terrorists from entering the U.S. accross its northern and southern borders, GAO agents have repeatedly been able to enter the country using fictitious documents.  Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers were unable to effectively identify counterfeit drivers’ licenses,  birth certificates and other documents.

In addition, DHS has failed to assess the likelihood that radiation detection equipment it has used would either misidentify or fail to detect nuclear or radiological material, the GAO said.  Instead, DHS has focused its efforts on reducing the time necessary to screen traffic at border checkpoints and reduce the impact of any delays on commerce.

Here are some other examples of DHS performance expectations achieved and not achieved, according to the GAO report:

Achieved:  Develop a strategy to detect and interdict illegal flows of cargo, drugs, and other items into the U.S.

Not achieved:  Implement a strategy to detect and interdict illegal flows of cargo, drugs, and other items into the U.S.

Achieved:  Develop and implement processes and procedures for physically screening passengers at airport checkpoints.

Not achieved:  Develop and implement an international passenger pre-screening process to compare passenger information to terrorist watch lists before aircraft departure.

 Achieved:  Deploy explosive detection systems (EDS) to screen checked baggage.  And develop a plan for air cargo security.

Not achieved: Develop and implement technologies to screen air cargo.

Achieved: Administer grant programs for security of surface transportation, which includes passenger and freight rail, mass transit, highways, and pipelines.

Not achieved: Conduct compliance inspections for surface transportation systems.

Achieved: Develop national plans for maritime security.  And develop a system for screening and inspecting maritime cargo for illegal contraband.

Not achieved:  Develop a program to screen incoming maritime cargo for radiation.

Achieved: Administer a program for providing grants and assistance to state and local governments and first responders in terrorist attacks and disasters.

Not achieved: Ensure the capacity and readiness of disaster response teams.

Achieved: Develop a comprehensive national plan for critical infrastructure protection.

Not achieved: Improve and enhance information sharing among public agencies and with the private sector involving attacks, threats, and vulnerabilities.

Achieved: Coordinate and share homeland security technologies with federal, state, local, and private sector entities.

Not achieved:  Assess emerging chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear threats.

Achieved: Develop a comprehensive plan for training and professional development within DHS.

Not achieved: Develop and implement processes to recruit and hire employees who possess needed skills.


3 Responses to “Continuing problems at Homeland Security”

  1. Maritime Security is definately a subject DHS has to work on. Hopefullly befor it is to late.

  2. […] a major opportunity to rearrange bureaucratic deck chairs – and cause all sorts of problems – which the DHS is currently facing. Instead he has recommended against the creation of a department of homeland […]

  3. […] in that bucket, though, it’s been a source of serious management trouble. A 2007 GAO report suggested that management problems at Homeland Security were hampering all its major functions. I think I […]

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