DHS tech work force plan deemed deficient: GAO

The Homeland Security Department is making limited progress in hiring of key IT staff and it is hurting the agency's ability to manage major programs, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

Lack of sufficient numbers of DHS IT personnel adversely affects the department's ability to monitor IT contractor activity, the GAO said. This is because significant portions of major IT programs, including the Secure Border Initiative Network and U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology, are currently outsourced to federal contractors.

A year ago, the department delivered a human capital plan for information technology to Congress outlining how it would meet its strategic IT hiring needs.

Human capital refers to the stock of productive skills and technological knowledge possessed by a given labor force. Through the plan, DHS sought to determine what skills it needs, where skill gaps exist and what steps should be taken to address the gaps.

IT plays a critical role in the department. In fiscal 2007, $4.1 billion was requested for support of 278 major IT programs at DHS. Currently, the department employs about 2,600 IT personnel. The department also uses outside contractors to help manage procurements.

While the IT human capital plan's main points met federal guidelines, the plan was missing 12 out of 27 standard management practices, according to the GAO. For example, the plan did not include performance benchmarks to be met. Furthermore, the plan did not assign responsibility and accountability for implementing the plan to specific individuals.

As a result, DHS officials have acknowledged that little progress has been made in implementing the hiring plan. The officials blamed the slow movement on competition from other departmental priorities and on ambiguity about specific responsibilities.

Nonetheless, until the plan's goals are carried out, DHS is vulnerable to ineffective IT operations, the GAO concluded.

"Until DHS has a complete plan that fully addresses all practices and the department and components implement the plan, DHS will continue to be at risk of not having sufficient people with the right knowledge, skills and abilities to manage the IT systems that are essential to executing the department's mission and achieving its transformation goals," the GAO report states.

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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