Key Issues > DHS Management - High Risk Issue
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DHS Management - High Risk Issue

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has improved its management of acquisition, information technology, financial, and human capital functions since its creation following the September 11 terrorist attacks. However, considerable work remains in these areas.

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Implementing and transforming the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was designated as high risk in 2003 because DHS had to transform 22 agencies—several with major management challenges—into one department. Failure to effectively address the management and program challenges that arose from this effort could have serious consequences for U.S. national security.

Since 2003, the focus of this high-risk area has evolved in tandem with DHS’s maturation and evolution. By September 2011, DHS had implemented key homeland security operations but continued to have management issues related to acquisition, information technology, financial management, and human capital. Consequently, the scope of this high-risk area was narrowed in 2013 to focus on these areas.

Acquisitions

DHS has made efforts to improve the performance of its major acquisition programs, but these programs continue to face challenges. Issues with staffing, funding, and defining the department’s requirements (what the department needs from the tools and assets it plans to acquire) increase the likelihood that major acquisition projects will cost more and take longer to complete than expected.

There can be valid reasons for cost growth or schedule delays, such as a program pursuing expanded capabilities to meet evolving threats. However, other reasons for cost growth and schedule slips are more troubling, such as initial cost estimates that were not comprehensive and requirements that were poorly defined.

Department of Homeland Security Major Acquisitions for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Coast Guard, and the Transportation Security Administration

Information technology

DHS has updated its approach for managing its information technology (IT) investments by assessing these investments across the department on an ongoing basis. DHS has also taken steps to improve its information security and, in November 2018, the department’s financial statement auditor reported that DHS had made progress in correcting its prior year IT security weaknesses.

However, for the 15th consecutive year, the auditor identified weaknesses in DHS’s information technology control that call into question the accuracy of the department’s financial statements. In addition, the department has not identified its IT staffing needs for specialty areas like cybersecurity management as required by the Homeland Security Cybersecurity Workforce Assessment Act.

Financial management

Every year, DHS is required to obtain audit opinions on both its financial statements and its internal control over financial reporting. DHS received a clean audit opinion on its financial statements for 6 consecutive years—fiscal years 2013 to 2018. However, its auditor reported serious problems with the department’s 2018 financial reporting processes, as well as instances of non-compliance with laws and regulations. Together, these concerns hamper DHS’s ability to reasonably assure that its financial reporting is reliable and that it is complying with applicable laws and regulations.

Human capital

DHS has made a number of improvements in how it manages its human capital. For example, DHS is implementing a human capital strategic plan and structured workforce planning, which should better prepare it to fill gaps in its workforce. However, Employee Engagement Index (EEI) data—a subset of the Office of Personnel Management’s (OPM) Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS)—indicates that DHS employee engagement has remained low relative to other government agencies.

Consistent with OPM guidance, DHS developed plans to address this and—after 5 years of declining scores—improved its scores in 2016 and 2017 and held steady in 2018. However, DHS has considerable work ahead to improve its employee engagement because its 2018 EEI scores ranked lowest among 20 large and very large federal agencies.

Office of Personnel Management’s Steps to Improve Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) Scores

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Videos

GAO: Comptroller General Testifies to U.S. Senate on GAO's 2017 High Risk List
GAO: Comptroller General Testifies to U.S. House on GAO's 2017 High Risk List

Podcasts

Oversight of DHS AcquisitionsMonday, March 16, 2015
Quick Look at DHS AcquisitionsWednesday, April 22, 2015
DHS Quick LookThursday, March 31, 2016
  • portrait of Chris Currie
    • Chris Currie
    • Director, Homeland Security and Justice
    • CurrieC@gao.gov
    • 404-679-1875