DHS directorate beset by management woes: GAO

The Homeland Security Department's directorate of Science and Technology suffers from weak internal management controls and high turnover in its staffing, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

The Science and Technology unit has a current budget of $973 million, of which $838 million pays for research, development, acquisitions and operations and $135 million pays for salaries and administrative expenses.

Because the directorate has had problems with its financial management in recent years, the House Appropriations Committee requested a detailed expenditure plan for fiscal 2007. The GAO reviewed the expenditure plan, which was submitted to Congress in January 2007.

Among its findings, the GAO said it discovered that Science and Technology did not use standard classifications for management and administrative expenses.

In addition, the directorate does not appear to be in compliance with GAO guidelines related to appropriate staffing, especially for management, and also is experiencing high turnover and a high percentage of vacant positions, the report said.

Overall, 35 percent of the full-time equivalent positions in the directorate were vacant as of March 2007. Also, 53 percent of the positions in the Office of the Chief Financial Officer were vacant at that time. The directorate has had two CFOs in the last two years.

DHS officials agreed with the findings and have institute corrective measures, including a plan to reach full staffing by Dec. 31, 2007, the report said. "We identified areas of weakness in S&T's internal controls, which S&T acknowledged," the report said. The GAO made no additional recommendations.

Two other items in the expenditure plan drew GAO's notice. In May 2007, the directorate revised its travel expenses for the year sharply downward, to $358,000, from $4 million. It also revised its equipment expenses upward, to $8 million, from $478,000, the report said. The directorate described those changes as corrections to previous misclassifications of expenses, the GAO 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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