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Before the House Homeland Security Committee, Subcommittee on 
Management, Investigations, and Oversight: 

United States Government Accountability Office: 


For Release on Delivery Expected at 10:00 a.m. EDT: 

Wednesday, June 20, 2007: 

Homeland Security: 

Guidance from Operations Directorate May Enhance Collaboration among 
Departmental Operations Centers: 

Statement of Eileen R. Larence: 
Director, Homeland Security and Justice Issues: 


GAO Highlights: 

Highlights of GAO-07-683T, a testimony before the House Homeland 
Security Committee, Subcommittee on Management, Investigations, and 

Why GAO Did This Study: 

This testimony summarizes GAO’s October 2006 report on the Department 
of Homeland Security’s (DHS) operations centers—centers run by three 
DHS components and operating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 
365 days a year to conduct monitoring and surveillance activities of 
potential terrorist activities and other crises. Specifically, GAO 
assessed the extent to which they implemented key practices GAO’s work 
has shown will enhance and sustain collaboration. 

In addition, GAO is aware of Congress’ concerns about the performance 
of components of DHS during Hurricane Katrina, and the recent efforts 
made in response to these concerns identified in hurricane after-action 
studies and reports. Because these efforts to some extent affect DHS’s 
response to the recommendations made in GAO’s previous report, this 
testimony briefly describes some of the steps DHS reported that it has 
taken to address problems Katrina exposed. However, because these 
actions are relatively new, it is too early to assess how well they are 
being implemented. 

To complete this work, GAO spoke to DHS officials and reviewed relevant 

What GAO Found: 

The DHS operations centers GAO studied—the Air and Marine Operations 
Center, the National Targeting Center, the Transportation Security 
Operations Center, and the National Operations Center—could better 
implement most of the key practices GAO identified as having a positive 
effect on inter-agency collaboration. These key practices include (1) 
defining common outcomes and joint strategies; (2) assessing each 
center’s needs to leverage resources; (3) defining the roles and 
responsibilities of the personnel conducting surveillance activities; 
(4) establishing compatible standards, policies, and procedures for 
using DHS’s primary information sharing network; (5) developing 
mechanisms to monitor and evaluate results of joint operations; and (6) 
reinforcing accountability by recognizing joint efforts and outcomes 
achieved in annual performance plans and reports. The Operations 
Directorate, established in November 2005 to improve operational 
efficiency and coordination, provides DHS with an opportunity to more 
fully implement these key practices by providing guidance to the 
operations centers. Although GAO recommended that the Directorate 
provide this guidance, DHS stated that the Directorate does not have 
control over the component operations centers; therefore, it has not 
provided guidance to improve collaboration among the centers. 

According to DHS, it has given priority to fixing issues that affect 
its ability to respond to national incidents and disasters, such as 
Hurricane Katrina, instead of directing the Operations Directorate to 
provide guidance to enhance collaboration at operations centers. The 
actions in response to Katrina include establishing standard roles and 
procedures for reporting information during a major incident and 
creating a Web-based tool to provide a common view of critical 
information during a crisis. While DHS has not fully responded to GAO 
recommendation for implementing key collaborative practices, it 
maintains that the after-action initiatives it has implemented since 
Katrina may improve collaboration and create an environment to address 
the recommendations in the future. 

Figure: Staff Conducting Surveillance Activities at Operations Centers: 

[See PDF for Image] 

Source: From left to right: TSA and CBP. 

[end of figure] 


To view the full product, including the scope and methodology, click on 
the link above. For more information, contact Eileen Larence at (202) 
512-8777 or 

[End of section] 

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee: 

I appreciate the opportunity to participate in today's hearing to 
discuss our work on assessing the relationship among various operations 
centers of components of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and 
the agency's overall National Operations Center in carrying out the 
important mission of maintaining situational awareness and being 
prepared to help with incident management. 

When DHS was established as an organization, we recognized the 
challenges it would face in trying to integrate 22 legacy agencies into 
one new corporate entity. Therefore, in January 2003 we placed the 
integration and transformation of the department on GAO's high-risk 
list--composed of those federal agencies, programs, or activities that 
pose the highest risk to the nation--because we recognized the country 
could not afford to have DHS fail. The Department's transformation 
remained on our high-risk list for 2007 because DHS had still not fully 
addressed its integration, management, and programmatic 
challenges.[Footnote 1] Placing it on this list obligates us to 
continue to monitor how well the integration and transformation is 

With similar concerns, as well as concerns with the response to events 
that have occurred since, such as hurricanes Katrina and Rita and 
continuing terrorist threats, the Congress has been overseeing DHS's 
transformation. As part of this oversight, the Senate Committee on 
Homeland Security and Government Affairs requested that we identify the 
DHS operations centers (established to conduct monitoring and 
surveillance activities that can help detect, deter and prevent 
terrorist acts), to determine if any centers are redundant, and assess 
the functions and customers of these centers. Also, as part of this 
oversight, the Committee recognized that Hurricane Katrina demonstrated 
that the department's main operations center--the Homeland Security 
Operations Center--was not ready to effectively coordinate the sharing 
of information in a time of crisis and needed repair; therefore, it 
made a series of recommendations to address the problems identified and 
has been monitoring agency efforts to ensure it makes these 
changes.[Footnote 2] 

In response to the Senate Committee's request for GAO to review 
operations centers, we decided to assess those centers within DHS's 
component agencies that, first, conduct operations 24 hours a day, 7 
days a week, 365 days a year (24/7/365), and that, second, have a 
broader security mission that DHS has determined requires higher levels 
of collaboration from many stakeholders, including DHS component 
agencies, and other federal, state, and local agencies. These centers 
are the Air and Marine Operations Center and the National Targeting 
Center, sponsored by U.S. Customs and Border Protection; the 
Transportation Security Operations Center sponsored by the 
Transportation Security Administration; and the National Operations 
Center Interagency Watch, the successor to the Homeland Security 
Operations Center, run within the Office of Operations Coordination at 
DHS. We assessed the extent to which they implemented key practices 
that our work has shown helps to enhance and sustain 
collaboration,[Footnote 3] since such collaboration is important to one 
of the main functions of each center, namely, sharing information 
needed to develop and maintain situational awareness of potential 
crises and terrorist activity nationwide. These key collaborative 
practices include defining and articulating a common outcome and joint 
strategies to guide multi-agency activities such as information 
sharing, and assessing staffing needs to leverage the resources other 
agencies contribute to the centers. We found that these practices can 
help agencies overcome barriers to collaboration, such as 
overprotection of jurisdiction and resources, as well as, incompatible 
procedures and processes that can result in agencies operating in a 
fragmented and uncoordinated way, wasting resources, and limiting 

Based on our work on operations centers, we issued a report in October 
2006 with recommendations for the Office of Operations Coordination to 
develop and provide guidance to the centers in our study to encourage 
that they implement these key collaborative practices as a means to 
enhance their ability to meet their missions.[Footnote 4] Today, we 
would like to, first, briefly review the collaboration issues and 
recommendations we presented in our report, then, give an update of 
DHS's efforts to respond to these recommendations. 

In addition, we are aware of the Congress' concerns about the 
performance of the Homeland Security Operations Center during Hurricane 
Katrina, and the recent efforts made in response to these and other 
concerns identified in hurricane after-action studies and reports. 
Because these efforts to some extent affect DHS's response to our 
recommendations, we briefly describe some of the steps DHS recently 
reported to us that it has taken to address problems Katrina exposed, 
although it is too early to assess these actions to determine how well 
they are being implemented since a number of them are relatively new. 

Scope and Methodology: 

To determine the extent to which operations centers managed by 
different offices and components within DHS had implemented key 
practices that our work has shown can enhance collaboration among 
federal agencies, during our original work, we reviewed transition, 
management integration, and planning and policy documents from the 
department. We also reviewed strategic plans, as well as annual 
performance reports and planning documents from DHS and its component 
agencies. In addition, we reviewed and analyzed the results of studies 
undertaken by DHS to assess and improve coordination and collaboration 
at the multi-agency centers as well as reports from GAO, the 
Congressional Research Service, the DHS Office of Inspector General, 
and others that addressed the integration, coordination, and 
collaboration of departmentwide program functions. To determine the 
extent to which they reflect how DHS has encouraged the use of the key 
collaborative practices, we also met with the acting director and other 
responsible officials from the Office of Operations Coordination to 
discuss its role and responsibilities. 

To obtain updated information on DHS's efforts to implement our 
recommendations, we visited the National Operations Center, the 
National Infrastructure Coordination Center, the National Response 
Coordination Center, and Transportation Security Operations Center and 
met with center managers. In addition, we spoke to officials at the 
National Targeting Center. We also received a series of briefings on 
organizational and operational changes implemented since Hurricane 
Katrina and reviewed documentation provided to explain these changes. 
We relied on these visits and briefings for updated information on 
DHS's response to our and post-Katrina after action report 
recommendations; we did not verify the accuracy of DHS's officials' 
statements or the effectiveness of the implemented actions. We 
conducted our original and additional audit work in accordance with 
generally accepted government accounting standards between October 2005 
through September 2006, and March 2007 through June 2007, respectively. 


In our October 2006 report, we reported that the centers had the 
opportunity to better implement most of the key practices we identified 
that enhance collaboration. While we did not identify any major 
problems or barriers to executing their missions, enhanced 
collaboration could further ensure robust situational awareness and 
support to incident response. For example, we found that while DHS had 
implemented one key collaborative practice--leveraging its resources-- 
by having staff from multiple agencies work together at the four 
operations centers, it could better implement the following 
collaborative practices: 

* Defining and articulating a common outcome or joint strategies. This 
helps to provide, for example, a compelling rationale for agencies to 

* Assessing each center's needs in order to leverage resources, 
especially human resources or staffing needs. This helps to ensure 
efficiencies and that the functions of a center are not compromised by 
the workforce limitations of a single agency. 

* Defining roles and responsibilities, especially of the 
watchstanders[Footnote 5] in each center, those staff who come from 
other agencies and have the important job of conducting surveillance 
activities. This helps to ensure that people at the same center in the 
same role perform their responsibilities consistently. Because of the 
potentially critical, time-sensitive need for decisive action at 24/7/ 
365 operations centers, it is important that the roles and 
responsibilities of watchstanders are described and understood by both 
the watch staff as well as the officials responsible for managing the 
operations centers. 

* Establishing compatible standards, policies, and procedures, such as 
those for DHS's Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN)[Footnote 
6]--the primary network DHS uses to share incident management and 
homeland security information across DHS, and with other federal, 
state, and local partners. This would provide a means to operate across 
agency boundaries and help ensure effective communications among the 

* Developing mechanisms to monitor and evaluate results of joint 
operations, such as conducting joint exercises and assessing the after- 
action reports. This helps management, key decision makers, and both 
stakeholders and customers obtain feedback to improve governing policy 
and operational effectiveness. 

* Reinforcing agency accountability for collaborative efforts by 
recognizing joint efforts and outcomes achieved in published strategic 
and annual performance plans and reports. Joint accountability and 
recognition can provide an incentive to collaborate. 

We found that the Operations Directorate (now known as the Office of 
Operations Coordination), established in November 2005 to improve 
operational efficiency and coordination, provides DHS with an 
opportunity to more fully implement these key practices. Therefore, we 
recommended that the Secretary of DHS charge the Director of the 
Operations Directorate with developing and providing the guidance 
necessary to help ensure the four centers take the following six 
actions to implement best practices for collaboration and help better 
position the centers to achieve their common missions: 

* Define common outcomes and joint strategies for achieving their 
overall mission; 

* Conduct staffing needs assessments to better leverage resources 
within centers; 

* Clarify the roles and responsibilities for watchstanders so that they 
understand each person's expected duties and contributions, especially 
during an emergency; 

* Apply standards, policies, and procedures to promote the more 
extensive use of DHS's information network to improve communications; 

* Prepare mechanisms to monitor and evaluate the results of joint and 
collaborative efforts to ensure effectiveness; and: 

* Address the results achieved by collaborative efforts in strategic 
and annual performance plans and reports to increase accountability. 

At the time of our report, DHS agreed with these recommendations, but 
according to DHS officials, has yet to implement them. In recent 
meetings, DHS said that some changes at the National Operations Center 
are responsive to several of these recommendations. For example, the 
center is taking steps to better define the role of watchstanders, and 
DHS has designed a strategy and set of initiatives to improve the 
usefulness of the information network. However, according to Operations 
Directorate officials, they have not been directed by DHS to issue the 
overall guidance we recommended. They also do not plan to issue such 
guidance at this time because they stated they do not have any 
administrative, budgetary, or operational authority or control over the 
other three component centers. While we understand that these centers 
have missions unique to their sponsoring agencies and are not subject 
to the Operations Directorate, providing these centers guidance that is 
not mandatory but strongly endorsed on ways to better collaborate 
internally could enhance their effectiveness within their own centers 
as well as in providing the national center the information it needs, 
especially during a time of crisis. 

DHS officials said another reason they had yet to implement our 
recommendations is in part because, instead of focusing on these intra- 
department collaboration issues, DHS has been giving priority to fixing 
critical inter-agency and inter-governmental issues that hindered its 
ability to respond to major, national incidents and disasters, 
particularly Hurricane Katrina. DHS officials said there were a number 
of post-Katrina initiatives underway which could build relationships 
among the centers so that they are more disposed to implement the 
recommended key collaborative practices in the future. For example, DHS 
points to its efforts to: 

* Establish standard roles and procedures among all stakeholders, both 
within and outside DHS, for reporting information during a major 
incident. Now, according to DHS, information must be verified and 
clarified at the field and headquarters level before it is placed on 
its information network. 

* Create the Common Operating Picture (COP)--a real-time, web-based 
tool designed to provide a common view of critical information during a 
crisis--within DHS's Homeland Security Information Network. 

* Create working groups of partners within and outside of DHS to 
enhance information flow on planning, training, and incident 
management, to resolve interdepartmental conflicts, and to facilitate 
decision-making at higher levels. 

While it is too early to assess to what extent DHS has successfully 
implemented and institutionalized these initiatives since some are only 
recently established, they appear to be designed to address several key 
recommendations from congressional and administration Post-Katrina 
assessments.[Footnote 7] DHS acknowledges it still has a substantial 
way to go to fully implement these initiatives and measure their 
results, but it has recently tested some of these initiatives during 
interagency training exercises and has plans to do more of these tests 
in the future. Continuing to focus on efforts to measure how well these 
initiatives are working, and, as importantly, to what extent key 
stakeholders, such as state and local governments and the private 
sector, anticipate that these initiatives will meet their needs is 
critical, given that Hurricane Katrina demonstrated these stakeholders 
are the first responders and key to effective disaster response and 
recovery. Finally, it is clear that Congressional oversight has been 
and will continue to be a key driver in accelerating DHS's efforts to 
be better prepared to respond to and manage national incidents. 

DHS's Four Multi-Agency Operations Centers Have Unique Missions and 
Responsibilities, but Also Have Opportunities to Enhance Collaboration: 

In our October 2006 report on DHS multi-agency operations centers, we 
found that they were not unnecessarily redundant in that they have 
distinct missions but also contribute to the larger effort, carried out 
by the National Operations Center, to provide national situational 
awareness and incident management across DHS. In terms of key 
collaborative practices, DHS had implemented one practice--leveraging 
its resources--by having staff from multiple agencies work together at 
the four operations centers, but could take advantage of other relevant 
practices we have found to be important to enhancing and sustaining 
collaboration among federal agencies. We also reported that the 
establishment of the Operations Directorate provided DHS with an 
opportunity to more consistently implement these practices. As of June 
2007, DHS had taken some actions but had not yet implemented our 
recommendations for several reasons, including the stated concern that 
the Operations Directorate does not have authority over component 
centers. Nevertheless, we continue to see merit in the wider use of the 
key collaborative practices we identified and a role for the 
Directorate to encourage their use across centers. 

The Centers Do Not Define and Articulate Common Outcomes and Joint 
Strategies, a Key Practice Intended to Enhance and Sustain 

At the time of our review, the three DHS components responsible for the 
four multi-agency centers had not developed or documented common goals 
or joint strategies that incorporated all the agencies within the 
centers and that our work has shown could, in turn, enhance 
collaboration among these agencies. Officials at the multi-agency 
operations centers we visited said they did consider formally 
documenting working agreements but concluded it was not essential since 
all of the agencies involved were part of DHS. While this may be true, 
documenting common outcomes can provide a compelling rationale for 
agencies to collaborate and documenting joint strategies ensures 
everyone is working in concert towards the end results that 
collectively need to be achieved. Our work shows that agencies 
strengthen their commitment to collaborate when they articulate 
agreements in formal documents such as memorandums of understanding, 
interagency guidance, or interagency planning documents. 

Last year, officials from the National Operations Center said that the 
lack of formal agreements is a reflection of the speed with which the 
center was established and the inherent flexibility offered to DHS 
agencies in order to get them to staff the operation center positions. 
While recognizing the benefits of such flexibility, it is important to 
balance the tradeoff of ensuring that all participants understand the 
common goals and objectives to be achieved. In addition, within DHS, 
external and internal memorandums of agreement and other interagency 
joint operating plans are often used to document common organizational 
goals and how agencies will work together. For example, the Office of 
Investigations at Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and 
Border Protection's border patrol have a memorandum of understanding 
that governs the interaction between the two components as they carry 
out their missions to investigate and reduce vulnerabilities in the 
customs and immigration systems and to protect our borders, 
respectively, and formalizes roles and responsibilities in order to 
enhance information sharing. In addition, the DHS Office of Inspector 
General has reported that memorandums of understanding are valuable 
tools for establishing protocols for managing a national-level program 
between two organizations.[Footnote 8] For these reasons, we 
recommended that the Operations Directorate develop and provide 
guidance to the three agencies that sponsor the operations centers to 
help ensure they define common goals and joint strategies that 
incorporate all the agencies working at the centers. 

In our recent follow-up to our recommendations, DHS officials said that 
they had not issued such guidance, but pointed to several other post- 
Katrina actions DHS was taking that it believes are examples of common 
strategies and plans that are put into action daily and that enhance 
collaboration, and thus, situational awareness. For example, DHS said 
it has developed national reporting requirements and a coordinated 
national reporting chain for submitting homeland security information 
during a crisis, in part in response to Hurricane Katrina lessons 
learned. The national reporting requirements and reporting chain is to 
define procedures that component centers, among others, are to follow 
for inputting and confirming information used during a crisis. 

In addition, our past work has demonstrated that agencies should 
involve nonfederal partners, key clients, and stakeholders in defining 
and articulating outcomes and decision-making. Along those lines, DHS 
has created or plans to create several working groups with state, 
local, and private sector members to enhance information flow for 
incident management, and facilitate decision-making at higher levels. 
For example, the Director of the Office of Operations said DHS plans to 
establish a Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN) Advisory 
Council to provide a forum for providing feedback on ways to improve 
information sharing among communities of interest. 

The Centers Are at Varying Stages of Assessing Staffing Needs; Doing So 
Could Help to Ensure Centers Have Enough Staff to Leverage Resources to 
Increase Efficiency: 

The extent to which officials responsible for managing the four multi- 
agency operations centers had conducted needs assessments to determine 
the staffing requirements of each center as a means to leverage 
resources varied at the time of our review. For example, CBP officials 
conducted an evaluation in June 2005 that addressed the Air and Marine 
Operations Center's capabilities and continuing staffing needs related 
to its personnel, but it did not clearly address the need for, or 
responsibilities of, U.S. Coast Guard staff assigned to the center. 
Transportation Security Operations Center and National Operations 
Center officials said they had not documented a needs analysis for 
staff from other agencies. They said they viewed cross-agency staffing 
as a historical edict based on a general assumption that such expertise 
was needed to fulfill the mission of their operations center, and 
believed that the supporting agency providing the staff best knew the 
staffing requirements to fulfill its role at the centers. Our work has 
shown that identifying and leveraging resources, including human 
resources, ensures efficiencies and that the functions of a multi- 
agency operations center are not compromised by the workforce 
limitations of a single agency. 

Since our report, DHS said it is updating mission requirements for the 
Operations Directorate and will subsequently assess the National 
Operations Center's staffing needs, although DHS did not say when that 
assessment would be completed. On the other hand, Officials at the 
National Targeting Center and the Transportation Security Operations 
Center told us they have not assessed cross-component staffing needs 
because they considered such assessments to be the responsibility of 
the agency providing staff. Nevertheless, we maintain that such 
assessments continue to be useful to ensure efficiency and that 
operations centers have the correct mix of staff to perform their 
missions. Therefore, while we understand that the Operations 
Directorate has taken the position it does not have control over the 
component center resources, we maintain that providing guidance to 
component agencies to assist them in conducting such staffing needs 
assessments would allow the component sponsoring the center to leverage 
resources more efficiently to meet the operational needs of the center. 

Not All Centers Have Established a Definition of Watchstander Roles and 
Responsibilities for All Agencies at Each Center; Doing So Would Help 
Ensure Staff Understand Each Others' Duties during Emergencies: 

Our work has shown that collaborating agencies should work together to 
define and agree on who will do what and how they will organize their 
joint and individual efforts, and that this facilitates decision- 
making. Agencies use handbooks, charters, standard operating 
procedures, and other methods to document these agreements. We found, 
however, that while three of the four multi-agency operations centers 
had developed descriptions for the watchstander position staffed by 
their own agency at the time of our review, only one center--the Air 
and Marine Operations Center--had developed a position description for 
staff assigned to the center from another DHS agency. For example, at 
this center, officials require that Coast Guard staff meet a 
standardized set of requirements for radar watchstanders. The other 
centers relied on the components that provide staff to define their 
watchstanders' roles and responsibilities. These centers also said that 
because the contributing agencies provide staff who have experience and 
know how they are to operate and contribute in the different multi- 
agency settings, formally documenting their roles was not necessary. 
While we recognize components may be in the best position to define how 
their staff should contribute, we maintain that it is important that 
each watchstander's position within a center be clearly defined and 
communicated so that staff understand not only their individual role, 
but each other's responsibilities and span of control, as well as their 
expected joint contributions, most critically during major events. In 
addition, because of the potentially time-sensitive need for decisive 
action at 24/7/365 operations centers, it is important that the roles 
and responsibilities of watchstanders are described and understood by 
both the staff and the officials responsible for managing the 
operations centers to enhance and sustain collaboration. Further, a 
definition of the watchstander role and responsibilities is important 
for supporting agency officials who must make staffing decisions about 
assigning qualified and knowledgeable personnel to the centers. 

According to DHS, since our report, it has taken steps to further 
define the role and responsibilities of the watchstanders in its 
National Operations Center and documented them in its Standard 
Operating Procedures, as well as to develop Memoranda of Agreements 
with the components that will codify the role of the watchstanders they 
provide to the National Operations Center. Such an action, like that of 
the Air and Marine Operations Center with regard to Coast Guard 
watchstanders, helps ensure that the staff received from partnering 
organizations possess the necessary skills to support the operations 
center to which they are assigned. Given that DHS has recognized the 
importance of this key practice within these two instances, we continue 
to maintain it is important for DHS to ensure the other centers 
likewise have clearly defined and communicated the roles and 
responsibilities of watchstanders. 

DHS Has Taken Some Steps to Provide Centers with Standards, Policies, 
and Procedures, Especially for Information Sharing, to Operate across 
Agency Boundaries, but Challenges Remain: 

Since January 2005, we have designated information sharing for homeland 
security a high-risk area because the federal government still faces 
formidable challenges in analyzing and disseminating key information 
among federal and other partners in a timely, accurate, and useful 
manner.[Footnote 9] Likewise, Hurricane Katrina demonstrated that the 
inability to share information during a disaster can impair the speed 
of response and recovery efforts. One of the primary missions of each 
operations center is to share information so as to understand threats, 
maintain situational awareness, and manage responses to incidents. One 
of the key technical tools DHS has decided to use to provide for this 
information-sharing is the Homeland Security Information Network 
(HSIN), and organizations participating in multi-agency operations 
centers need to be connected to the network and have the training and 
guidance that enables its use, among other things. DHS implemented HSIN 
in 2004 and reports that 18,000 individuals across DHS, other federal 
agencies, as well as state and local government and private entities 
are authorized to use it. However, we, the DHS IG, and the department 
itself have identified continuing concerns with this system, which is 
used for sharing a variety of information, including law enforcement 
and emergency response information used to support situational 
awareness and incident response. 

In April 2007, we reported[Footnote 10] that DHS did not fully adhere 
to collaborative practices or Office of Management and Budget (OMB) 
guidance in coordinating its efforts to implement HSIN through state 
and local information-sharing initiatives. DHS is statutorily 
responsible for coordinating the federal government's networks and 
other communications systems, like HSIN, with state and local 
governments. OMB guidance requires DHS to foster such coordination and 
collaboration as a means to improve government performance, including 
enhancing information sharing and avoiding duplication of effort. Key 
practices to help implement the guidance include establishing joint 
strategies and developing compatible policies and procedures to operate 
across agency boundaries. However, DHS did not fully adhere to these 
practices or guidance in coordinating its efforts on HSIN with key 
state and local stakeholders. As a result, the department faces the 
risk that, among other things, effective information sharing is not 
occurring and that its HSIN system may duplicate state and local 
capabilities. The department has efforts planned and underway to 
improve coordination and collaboration, but these efforts have just 
begun or are being planned with implementation milestones yet to be 
established. As a result, we made recommendations to the Secretary of 
Homeland Security to ensure that HSIN is effectively coordinated with 
state and local government information-sharing initiatives. The 
Inspector General's June 2006 report had similar findings that DHS did 
not provide adequate guidance, including clear information sharing 
processes, training, and reference materials, needed to effectively 
implement HSIN[Footnote 11] so that stakeholders were unsure of how to 
use the system. 

The HSIN program manager pointed to a number of initiatives being 
implemented to address these challenges. These actions include the 
issuance of a strategic framework and implementation plan, creation of 
a Mission Coordinating Committee to define component information 
requirements for the network, and, as mentioned previously, the planned 
establishment of a HSIN advisory committee comprised of experts, users, 
and other stakeholders involved in homeland security operations around 
the country. This committee is intended to provide DHS with comments 
and feedback on how the HSIN program can better meet user needs, 
examine DHS's processes for deploying HSIN to the states, assess state 
resources, and determine how HSIN can coordinate with these resources. 
Nevertheless, the program manager also identified challenges in getting 
components to participate in the process of identifying user needs, and 
said that the department still faced challenges in gaining widespread 
acceptance and use of this tool. Furthermore, one component that 
sponsors a key portion of HSIN, the Preparedness Directorate, is 
considering whether to continue to support and maintain portals to 
provide connectivity to private sector owners and operators of critical 
infrastructure sites, or whether to pursue other alternatives, raising 
questions about the overall utility of HSIN. Finally, the DHS Office of 
Inspector General plans to conduct an evaluation of the HSIN beginning 
later this spring as a follow-up to its 2006 report to determine the 
progress the Department has made in fixing the shortcomings 
identified.[Footnote 12] 

Three of Four Centers Had Not Developed Methods to Monitor and Evaluate 
the Results of Joint Efforts: 

With the exception of the Air and Marine Operations Center, the multi- 
agency centers had not developed methods to monitor and evaluate the 
results of joint efforts at the time of our review, a key practice for 
ensuring collaboration. For example, the Office of Management and 
Budget's assessment of the National Operations Center for 2005 
determined that center officials had not established effective annual 
or long-term performance goals, a first step in an effective 
performance management and measurement process. Nor were performance 
measures or other mechanisms in place to monitor and evaluate the joint 
efforts of multiple DHS agencies at the Transportation Security 
Operations Center and the National Targeting Center. Without annual 
goals and a means to measure performance, it is difficult for an 
organization to determine how well it is functioning and identify how 
it could be more effective. Likewise, our work has shown that 
developing performance measures and mechanisms can help management, key 
decision makers, and both stakeholders and customers obtain feedback to 
improve operational effectiveness and policy. 

To date, DHS has not provided guidance to the multiagency centers to 
help implement mechanisms to monitor and evaluate the results of 
collaborative efforts. However, as we further discuss later in this 
statement, the Operations Directorate said the National Operations 
Center, and, as relevant, other centers, have participated in, and will 
be participating in, exercises to test some of the changes the centers 
have implemented. These exercises provide a means to monitor and 
evaluate collaboration during real or hypothetical events, and the 
after-action reviews or lessons learned reviews conducted such as 
Katrina after-action reports and recommendations, as well as its own 
exercises and lessons learned, such as the exercises to test and revise 
HSIN and COP. The center director also described several new inter- 
agency groups designed to improve operations that also offer a means to 
monitor and evaluate results as well. 

The Centers Are at Various Stages of Using Joint Agency Planning and 
Reporting to Reinforce Accountability for Collaborative Efforts: 

In our prior work, we determined that neither DHS nor the component 
agencies responsible for managing multi-agency operations centers 
consistently discussed, or included a description of, the contribution 
of the centers' collaborative efforts in the components' strategic or 
annual performance plans and reports. Our work has shown that federal 
agencies can use these plans and reports as tools to drive 
collaboration with other agencies and partners, as well as to establish 
complementary, consistent, and reinforcing goals and strategies for 
achieving results. Published strategic and annual performance plans and 
reports make agencies answerable for collaboration, and help to ensure 
that Congress has the information necessary to monitor, oversee, and 
effectively make investment decisions. 

In terms of using strategic and performance plans to reinforce 
collaboration, the most recent DHS strategic plan, issued in 2004, 
neither included a discussion of performance goals for, nor addressed 
the joint operations of, the multi-agency centers. On the other hand, 
the Air and Marine Operations Center's strategic plan for 2005 
generally discussed the importance of strengthening collaboration with 
other component agencies and included a goal to strengthen component 
agency partnerships to maximize homeland security strategies. 

In terms of using published reports to increase accountability for 
collaboration, CBP's 2005 annual report on the operations of the 
National Targeting Center did include a section dedicated to the 
contributions of personnel from other DHS components. But, reports from 
the other components that manage the centers did not address the roles 
and contributions of supporting agencies in accomplishing the centers' 
missions. Thus agencies are missing an opportunity to reinforce the 
value of partner agency contributions and investments. Likewise, 
reports from the DHS agencies that provide staff to these centers also 
did not address their participation in their own performance reports. 

DHS's Operations Directorate Has Given Priority to Fixing the Problems 
that Hurricane Katrina Exposed: 

According to DHS officials, the Operations Directorate and the National 
Operations Center have been focused on responding to the congressional 
and administration reports and corresponding recommendations generated 
in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. These reports pointed to a 
number of failures and problems attributed to the predecessor to the 
National Operations Center--the Homeland Security Operations Center-- 
including unclear roles and responsibilities; problems with the flow of 
information in and out of the center, especially to senior leadership; 
a lack of planning; problems confirming and validating information, and 
clarifying conflicting information; and untimely reporting. The reports 
concluded that as a result, senior leaders in the Department and the 
Administration were not aware of problems with the levees and flooding 
as early as they should have been. To address these problems, the after 
action reports made a series of recommendations, including the: 

* Creation of a national operations center to provide national 
situational awareness, incident management, and a common operating 

* Establishment of a permanent planning element for incident management 
and a national planning and execution system; and: 

* Creation of a national reporting system as well as national 
information requirements and a reporting chain. 

In response to these concerns, among others, DHS reported that it made 
a series of changes to its operations, organization, and procedures for 
sharing information in order to maintain situational awareness and 
provide for incident management. The changes included giving priority 
to improving coordination with external stakeholders, such as other 
federal agencies, state and local entities who are the first responders 
and ultimately manage recovery efforts, and its own components and 
their respective operations centers. The DHS National Operations Center 
staff with whom we spoke maintained that implementing these changes 
could in turn create an environment where the components and centers 
will be more disposed to implementing the key practices for improving 
collaboration that our work has identified. 

To address problems with collecting, analyzing, and timely 
disseminating of critical information during an incident that Katrina 
exposed, the Operations Directorate and the National Operations Center 
reported establishing several initiatives within the last year or so. 
Among other things, these initiatives included a new notification 
system aimed at providing protocols for sharing information on a 
graduated scale (from steady state to awareness, concern, and finally 
urgency). The Operations Directorate and the National Operations Center 
also defined a reporting structure, ranging from more real-time, 
unvetted information available from and to a wide range of stakeholders 
to reports intended to be more complete, vetted and validated through 
designated lead agencies and higher-level summaries geared for more 
senior leadership. DHS has initially developed these protocols and 
processes for sharing information for hurricane response and recovery 
and is expanding them to other scenarios and concerns. 

One other major DHS initiative to better share information for 
situational awareness and decision support that responds to key post- 
Katrina recommendations also depends on HSIN. DHS has created the 
Common Operating Picture (COP) within HSIN as a web-based tool designed 
to be available to all HSIN users, including key federal, state, and 
joint field office homeland security partners, to provide the 
information needed to make critical decisions during crises. Initially, 
DHS created COP templates to address hurricane disasters in time for 
the 2006 hurricane season. The tool includes, among other things, 
current summaries of specific situations, the location and operational 
status of critical infrastructure, media reports, and streaming video 
from the field that provides a real-time picture of developments, 
especially at an incident site, to enhance situational awareness. DHS 
also has created COP Training Teams that provide training and technical 
support to DHS components, and other partners. DHS said training was 
provided to 17 states on the Gulf and East coasts in 2006, the most 
hurricane-prone areas of the country. However, DHS is still resolving 
operational issues with COP. For example, DHS reported in January 2007 
that a comprehensive backup capability for the COP was under 
development but that the Department was prepared for contingencies 
related to power, telecommunications and server outages. DHS also 
reported that it continues to develop information requirements for use 
in other scenarios, such as pandemics and incidents involving nuclear 
devices, among others, as well as to further refine the system. 

DHS reports that it also has provided for the creation of several new 
working groups and organizational entities within the Operations 
Directorate or National Operations Center aimed at improving 
capabilities. The new units include: 

* Senior Leadership Group. It is comprised of key DHS officials across 
the major components and intended to provide a forum for the Secretary 
to obtain critical advice from those with the most direct incident 
management responsibilities, to communicate decisions, to facilitate 
the integration and coordination of intradepartmental operational 
missions, activities, and programs at the headquarters level; and to 
assist in resolving intradepartmental issues. The group convenes as 
necessary, such as during an actual incident or major exercise, 
although the Secretary or the Director of Operations Coordination may 
convene the group at any time. 

* Incident Management Planning Team—consisting of 53 members drawn from 
22 DHS components, 25 partner departments or agencies, and the American 
Red Cross—that has begun the coordination of existing plans and the use 
of resources for domestic disasters. According to DHS officials, the 
team is developing plans for the most likely, and then the most 
dangerous, of the National Planning Scenarios—the 15 all-hazards 
planning scenarios for use in national, federal, state, and local 
homeland security preparedness activities that are representative of 
the range of potential terrorist attacks and natural disasters and the 
related impacts that face our nation. 

* Disaster Situational Awareness Teams. These teams are to be comprised 
of field staff from Immigrations and Customs Enforcement since they can 
be more easily deployed and are to be at a site within 24 hours to 
provide situational awareness reporting and other assistance. 

* Crisis Action Teams. These multi-agency teams, whose membership 
overlaps in part with the new planning teams, are to provide 
interagency incident management capabilities and to, among other 
things, recommend courses of action, help prioritize incidents and 
resources, and serve as a central point for information collection, 
evaluation, and coordination, especially for complex or multiple 

Finally, DHS has completed a study of its operational capabilities and 
gaps to guide its future mission and initiatives. Called the Operations 
Mission Blueprint, DHS operations staff said the results are still 
under review; therefore, that they could not provide us with a copy. 
Part of this study includes a plan to consolidate DHS operations 
centers in headquarters and its components in a facility located at the 
St. Elizabeth's West Campus in Washington, D.C.[Footnote 13] The plan 
cites a number of organizational benefits to colocating facilities, 
including enhancing collaboration by bringing together a large number 
of DHS executives and line employees currently dispersed across the 

While DHS provided us with background briefings, some supporting 
documentation, and some after action reports on the initiatives we have 
outlined, we did not evaluate the extent to which they have been 
implemented and are effective at addressing the problems Katrina 
identified, in part because they are so new and in some cases still 
concepts. DHS officials themselves, however, identified some challenges 
and next steps in implementation. These include, for example, 
continuing to outreach to and better integrate DHS components as well 
as other stakeholders in planning and implementation, such as state, 
local, and private sector partners. 

As to this latter challenge, DHS has tested several of its new 
initiatives through daily use, such as COP, as well as interagency 
exercises. For example, through an exercise conducted last year, the 
National Operations Center identified opportunities to improve 
implementation of the Common Operating Picture. DHS recently completed 
two other exercises and plans additional exercises this fall and over 
the next two years that can also provide helpful performance 
information. We agree that the use of exercises, and more importantly 
the after-action and lessons learned analyses and recommendations to 
fix identified problems, are good methods to help determine how well 
initiatives are working, especially when testing under live, real-time 
circumstances is not possible. 

Complementing this with more systematic performance measures and ways 
to obtain feedback from key users and stakeholders on how well the 
initiatives meet their needs would also be helpful. For example, the 
program manager for the Homeland Security Information Network is 
planning to implement operational measures, such as the timeliness of 
information reporting and of responding to requests for information, as 
well as to obtain stakeholder feedback through its new Advisory Group 
when constituted. The deputy director of the Operations Center also 
hopes to be able to establish metrics in the future, such as using 
similar measures for the COP, and establishing a users group for 
feedback. Following through on implementation of these types of 
measures and feedback loops is particularly important for state and 
local stakeholders, as Katrina demonstrated, since they are the first 
responders and key to effective incident response planning and 

Concluding Observations: 

Our prior work demonstrated that the three component multi-agency 
operations centers we reviewed each have a critical mission to meet for 
their own agencies, as well as a common mission to support the National 
Operations Center, the key hub for sharing information on nationwide 
situational awareness and for coordinating federal support during major 
disasters. Centers rely on staff from multiple agencies to achieve 
their missions, so it is important that the centers can collaborate 
effectively among the agencies within a center. Our work provides a 
blueprint of key practices the centers could use to achieve this 
collaboration, and also demonstrates that they have opportunities to 
implement these practices more extensively. The payoff can include 
assurance that all staff clearly understands roles and 
responsibilities, especially during a crisis, and that centers have a 
common goal for achieving their joint missions, the right staff from 
across agencies to do so, and ways to evaluate results achieved and 
implement needed corrective actions. In turn, this can better position 
DHS, and the nation, to prevent, mitigate and respond to a critical 
event, help the Congress to fulfill its oversight and homeland security 
responsibilities, and help the department better integrate into a 
cohesive unit. While we understand that the Directorate does not 
control component centers and is reluctant to issue guidance to them on 
ways to implement these best practices as we recommended, we continue 
to think that the Directorate can reinforce these practices through 
such guidance and example, not only as it works with external 
stakeholders, but also with its internal component centers. We believe 
the Directorate could be more proactive to accelerate implementation so 
that centers achieve anticipated benefits sooner given current 
priorities and available resources. 

We also understand that the department set its priorities to first 
focus on fixing the problems Katrina exposed, as the Congress and 
Administration tasked, and recognize that such oversight has, and will 
continue to be, a key driver in effecting change to improve situational 
awareness and incident management capabilities at DHS. We also believe 
that the initiatives DHS is implementing in response appear to be the 
proper steps moving forward, given that they focus on better planning 
for disaster response and better information sharing, as well as 
include the necessary key players. However, while these initiatives are 
aimed at putting the right players, processes, protocols, and practices 
in place, both we and the department recognize that implementation is 
early, measures of effectiveness must still be put in place, and 
challenges must be overcome. 

Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, this completes my 
prepared statement. I would be happy to respond to any questions that 
you or any members of the subcommittee may have at this time. 

For information about this testimony, please contact Eileen Larence, 
Director, Homeland Security and Justice Issues, at (202) 512-8777, or Other individuals making key contributions to this 
testimony include Christopher Keisling, Nancy Briggs, Katherine Davis 
and Tony DeFrank. 


[1] GAO, High Risk Series: An Update, GAO-03-119 (Washington, D.C.: 
Jan. 2003); High Risk Series: An Update, GAO-07-310 (Washington, D.C.: 
Jan. 2007). 

[2] Hurricane Katrina: A Nation Still Unprepared, Report of the 
Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, United State 
Senate. (Washington, D.C.: May 2006). 

[3] GAO, Results-Oriented Government: Practices That Can Help Enhance 
and Sustain Collaboration among Federal Agencies, GAO-06-15 
(Washington, D.C.: Oct. 2005). 

[4] GAO, Homeland Security: Opportunities Exist to Enhance 
Collaboration at 24/7 Operations Centers Staffed by Multiple DHS 
Agencies, GAO-07-89 (Washington, D.C.: Oct. 2006). 

[5] For the purpose of our report, we used the term "watchstander" to 
refer to an individual required to work full-time on a rotating 24-hour 
schedule, 7 days per week, to maintain situational awareness, conduct 
information assessment and threat monitoring to deter, detect, and 
prevent terrorist incidents. A watchstander may also act as a liaison 
between his agency and other agency representatives at the center, and 
may manage response to critical threats and incidents. 

[6] The HSIN is an unclassified, Web-based system that provides a 
secure, collaborative environment for real-time information sharing 
that includes reporting, graphics, and chat capabilities, as well as a 
document library that contains reports from multiple federal, state, 
local, and private-sector sources. HSIN supplies suspicious incident 
and pre-incident information, mapping and imagery tools, 24x7 
situational awareness, and analysis of terrorist threats, tactics, and 

[7] Executive Office of the President, The Federal Response to 
Hurricane Katrina: Lessons Learned. February 2006. 

[8] Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General, Office 
of Inspections and Special Reviews, An Assessment of the Proposal to 
Merge Customs and Border Protection with Immigration and Customs 
Enforcement, OIG-06-04 (Washington, D.C.: Nov. 2005). 

[9] GAO. High-Risk Series: An Update, GAO-07-310 (Washington, D.C.: 
Jan. 2007). 

[10] GAO, Information Technology: Numerous Federal Networks Used to 
Support Homeland Security Need to Be Better Coordinated with Key State 
and Local Information-Sharing Initiatives, GAO-07-455 (Washington, 
D.C.: April 2007). 

[11] Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General, 
Office of Information Technology, HSIN Could Support Information 
Sharing More Effectively, DHS/OIG-06-38 (Washington, D.C.: June 2006). 

[12] Department of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General, 
Office of Information Technology, Homeland Security Information Network 
Could Support Information Sharing More Effectively, OIG-06-38, June 

[13] Department of Homeland Security, National Capital Region Housing 
Master Plan: Building a Unified Department, Washington D.C., October 
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