DHS transformation remains at risk: GAO

For the fourth consecutive year, the Homeland Security Department remains at high risk of not achieving its goals due to serious challenges in managing the agency, according to testimony yesterday by David M. Walker, the General Accountability Office comptroller general.

The department, which was created in 2003, faces numerous hurdles in achieving a transformation from 22 separate agencies to a single cohesive unit. Despite improvements it continues to struggle with financial and IT systems as well as human capital and acquisition efforts, Walker told the House Homeland Security Committee.

The GAO has labeled DHS' transformation into a single unit at high risk of organizational challenges since January 2003. The designation was upheld in 2005 and again this year.

In the area of IT, DHS has shown uneven progress in managing its key IT systems, Walker said.

The department has made improvements in its enterprise architecture and IT investment management; and has conducted an inventory of its major information systems and implemented tools to support information security.

But much work remains. In key non-financial systems, for example, the department is not using best practices such as cost-estimating, requirements development, test management, performance measurement, strategic workforce management and proactive risk management, Walker said.

Nor has the department implemented a comprehensive IT security program, and more work is needed to deploy and operate IT systems in missions such as in identifying and screening foreign visitors, Walker said. Also, the CIO needs to be sufficiently empowered to implement solutions departmentwide.

"Until DHS fully establishes and consistently implements the full range of IT management disciplines embodied in its framework and related federal guidance and best practices, it will be challenged in its ability to effectively manage and deliver programs," Walker said.

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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