Management issues weigh down DHS

The Homeland Security Department continues to face major management challenges across the board, according to a new report from Richard Skinner, the department's inspector general.

Even though DHS has improved management in some areas, it still needs to make additional improvements in acquisitions, finances, information technology and grants. "While DHS has made progress, it still has much to do to establish a cohesive, efficient and effective organization," Skinner wrote.

The 35-page report offers a sweeping view of DHS' shortcomings in fulfilling its missions in disaster response and border, transportation and trade security.

The department didn't take the criticisms lying down. Attached to the IG's report is a 50-page "Management's Response," which includes numerous lists of mission accomplishments in fiscal 2007 prepared by department managers.

DHS "has steadfastly worked to resolve the challenges," the managers stated. "The department will continue to address the unresolved challenges, many of which may require several years to completely address due to the complexity of the challenge."

In the area of acquisitions, DHS spends about 39 percent of its annual budget on contracts. Based on audits of programs it considers at risk, such as the Coast Guard's Deepwater program and Customs and Border Protection's Secure Border Initiative, Skinner concluded that the department continues to make its urgent missions its highest priority while sometimes skimping on oversight.

"Programs developed at top speed sometimes overlook key issues during program planning and development of mission requirements," the IG wrote.

DHS uses performance-based contracting, which is generally a good idea, but there needs to be "more effort and smarter processes" to oversee the work, the report said. Skinner recommended developing alternative program designs that use lower-risk approaches, competing systems that meet the same performance requirements or extensive testing and prototyping to demonstrate performance.

Integrating IT systems at DHS remains one of the greatest challenges, Skinner wrote. That would mean meeting the following objectives:
  • Creating an adequate capability for relocating mission-critical information systems to an alternate disaster recovery site in the event of extended service disruptions or emergency.
  • Implementing a departmentwide program that ensures effective information security controls and addresses IT risks and vulnerabilities.
  • Improving IT planning, requirements identification and analysis to streamline operations within DHS components and support information sharing with state and local governments and the private sector.
  • Addressing privacy concerns while integrating systems and infrastructures.

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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