Results-Oriented Government:

Improvements to DHS's Planning Process Would Enhance Usefulness and Accountability

GAO-05-300: Published: Mar 31, 2005. Publicly Released: May 2, 2005.

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The creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was the largest government reorganization in over 50 years, involving 170,000 employees and a $40 billion budget. Given the magnitude of this effort, strategic planning is critical for DHS to ensure that it meets the nation's homeland security challenges. GAO was asked to assess the extent to which DHS's planning process and documents (1) address required elements of the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993 (GPRA) and other good strategic planning practices and (2) reflect its homeland and non-homeland security mission responsibilities.

DHS has made considerable progress in its planning efforts, releasing its first strategic plan in 2004 that details its mission and strategic goals. Nevertheless, opportunities for improvement exist. The creation of DHS brought together 22 agencies to coordinate the nation's homeland security efforts and to work with Congress and numerous other organizations, including federal agencies, state and local governments, and the private sector, to further this mission. Although DHS planning documents describe programs requiring stakeholder coordination to implement, stakeholder involvement in the planning process itself was limited. Involving stakeholders in strategic planning efforts can help create an understanding of the competing demands and limited resources, and how those demands and resources require careful and continuous balancing. As DHS updates its strategic plan, earlier and more comprehensive stakeholder consultation will help ensure that DHS's efforts and resources are targeted at the highest priorities and that the planning documents are as useful as possible to DHS and its stakeholders. While DHS's strategic plan addresses five of the six GPRA-required elements, it does not describe the relationship between annual and long-term goals. This linkage is crucial for determining whether an agency has a clear sense of how it will assess progress toward achieving the intended results for its long-term goals. While DHS's strategic planning documents address most of the required elements of GPRA, not including them in the strategic plan makes it difficult for DHS and its stakeholders to identify how their roles and responsibilities contribute to DHS's mission and potentially hinders Congress's and other key stakeholders' ability to assess the feasibility of DHS's long-term goals. Additionally, several of the GPRA-required elements addressed in the strategic plan could be further developed through the adoption of additional good strategic planning practices. For example, identifying the specific budgetary, human capital, and other resources needed to achieve its goals could demonstrate the viability of the strategies and approaches presented for achieving its long-term goals. Finally, although DHS's priority is its homeland security mission--which emphasizes deterring terrorism in the United States--DHS's planning documents clearly address its responsibility for non-homeland security mission programs as well, such as its response to natural disasters. In addition, DHS planning officials said that non-homeland security responsibilities were represented in the planning process and documents due, in part, to the commitment of top leadership.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DHS's new strategic plan was released in September 2008. The plan has a section titled "Stakeholder Outreach", which states that it was essential for DHS to solicit external input while developing the plan because Federal, State, local and tribal governments, as well as the private sector and academia are critical stakeholders. The plan explains that DHS mounted an expansive outreach effort to these stakeholders working with DHS's Private Sector Office, the Homeland Security Advisory Council, and the Office of Intergovernmental Programs. DHS solicited the input from a wide variety of governmental, non-profit, and private sector organizations. In addition, DHS's Office of Strategic Plans solicited comments from key partners, including the Department of Defense, Department of State, the Office of Management and Budget, and the Government Accountability Office.

    Recommendation: To make DHS a more results-oriented agency and allow for public oversight and accountability, the Secretary of Homeland Security should ensure that DHS's next strategic planning process includes direct consultation with external stakeholders, including Congress, federal agencies, state and local governments, and the private sector.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: GAO received the 60-day letter on September 19, 2005. DHS concurred with the recommendation and said that it has developed this information, most of which is in the Future Years Homeland Security Program and Performance Budget Overview (FYHSP). DHS released its updated strategic plan in October of 2008. The plan explains that the FYHSP demonstrates how the long-term goals in DHS's strategic plan are linked to annual planned and actual performance metrics and levels. Further, the Homeland Security Act of 2002 requires DHS to update the Future Years Homeland Security Program (FYHSP) annually. The FYHSP details DHS's five-year program resource and performance plans to meet DHS strategic goals and objectives -- it is the embodiment of the strategic plan. The strategic plan explains that the FYHSP, along with the strategic plan and annual performance reports, provide key management and reporting mechanisms by which DHS implements its performance management framework to assess accomplishments of the strategic objectives and goals.

    Recommendation: To make DHS a more results-oriented agency and allow for public oversight and accountability, the Secretary of Homeland Security should ensure that DHS's next strategic plan--the agency's primary public planning document--includes a description of the relationship between annual performance goals and long-term goals, as required by GPRA.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In September 2008, DHS released its updated strategic plan covering the years 2008-2013. The new plan addresses this recommendation. For example, the strategic plan has a section titled "external challenges" which explains that, to ameliorate the effect of natural threats to the country, DHS will continue its efforts to develop and sustain national partnerships across all levels of government, voluntary organizations, and the private sector to build an effective national emergency response system. In addition, the strategic plan has a section titled "Schedule for Future Program Evaluations" which explains that DHS will complete a Quarterly Performance Report, which provides DHS leadership with a summary of the achievements of their strategic results, with performance measures, PART results, PMA scores, and progress made on each of the Secretary's priorities. Finally, the strategic plan explains that the resources required to achieve the goals are included in the Future Years Homeland Security Program, as are timelines for achieving the long term goals.

    Recommendation: To make DHS a more results-oriented agency and allow for public oversight and accountability, the Secretary of Homeland Security should ensure that DHS's next strategic plan further develop the GPRA-required elements addressed by adopting additional good strategic planning practices. Specifically, the Secretary should ensure that the strategic plan includes a timeline for achieving long-term goals; a description of the specific budgetary, human capital, and other resources needed to achieve those goals; a schedule of program evaluations planned; and a discussion of strategies to ameliorate the effect of any key external factors.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

 

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