Print this page

Homeland security/Law enforcement > 8. Department of Homeland Security's Human Resources Systems

To address issues related to fragmented systems and duplicative processes, the Department of Homeland Security should take steps to (1) ensure that its Human Resources Information Technology investment receives necessary oversight and attention from its steering committee and (2) evaluate and update the investment’s strategic planning document.

Why This Area Is Important

Since the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was created, its human resources environment has included fragmented systems, duplicative and paper-based processes, and little uniformity of data management practices. According to DHS, these limitations in its human resources environment compromise the department’s ability to effectively and efficiently carry out its mission. For example, according to DHS, reporting and analyzing enterprise human capital data are time-consuming, labor-intensive, and challenging because the department’s data management largely consists of disconnected, standalone systems, with multiple data sources for the same content.

In 2003, DHS initiated the Human Resources Information Technology (HRIT) investment, which is intended to consolidate, integrate, and modernize the human resources IT infrastructure of the department and its eight components.[1] From 2003 to 2010, DHS made limited progress on the HRIT investment due to, among other things, limited coordination with and commitment from DHS’s components, as reported by DHS’s Inspector General.[2] To address this problem, in 2010, the DHS Deputy Secretary issued a memorandum emphasizing that DHS’s wide variety of human resources processes and IT systems inhibited DHS’s unity and negatively impacted operating costs. Among other things, the memorandum directed the Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer (OCHCO) and the Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) to develop a department-wide human resources architecture.

In response to the Deputy Secretary’s direction, in 2011 the department developed a strategic planning document referred to as the Human Capital Segment Architecture Blueprint, which redefined the HRIT investment's scope and implementation time frames. As part of the effort to develop the blueprint, DHS conducted a system inventory and reported in its blueprint that it had 422 human resources systems and applications. DHS also reported that these numerous, antiquated, and fragmented systems reduced its ability to efficiently and effectively perform basic workforce management functions necessary to support mission-critical programs. The blueprint articulated that HRIT would be comprised of 15 strategic improvement opportunity areas (e.g., enabling seamless, efficient, and transparent end-to-end hiring) and outlined 77 associated projects (e.g., deploying a department-wide hiring system and establishing an integrated data repository and reporting mechanism) to implement these 15 opportunities.

While OCHCO officials had not prepared a complete life-cycle cost estimate for the HRIT investment, for fiscal years 2005 through 2015, the investment received line item appropriations totaling at least $180 million.[3] However, this figure is not a complete cost estimate because, as GAO reported in February 2016, DHS was unable to provide all cost information on HRIT activities since it began in 2003.

HRIT’s Performance and Learning Management System (PALMS) is intended to fully address HRIT’s Performance Management strategic improvement opportunity area. PALMS is attempting to implement a commercial off-the-shelf software product intended to allow DHS to consolidate nine existing learning management systems into one system and enable comprehensive enterprise-wide tracking, reporting, and analysis of employee learning and performance for DHS headquarters and its eight components.

[1] DHS’s eight components include the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, the Transportation Security Administration, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the U.S. Secret Service.

[2] DHS Office of Inspector General,Management Oversight and Component Participation Are Necessary to Complete DHS' Human Resource Systems Consolidation Effort, OIG-10-99 (Washington, D.C.: July 1, 2010).

[3] Appropriations acts passed for fiscal years 2003 through 2004 did not include a line item appropriating specific funds to HRIT.

What GAO Found

Limited Progress Made in Implementing HRIT, Due in Part to Lack of Steering Committee Involvement

In February 2016, GAO reported that DHS had made very little progress in addressing the 15 strategic improvement opportunities and the 77 associated projects included in HRIT. According to the Human Capital Segment Architecture Blueprint, DHS planned to implement 14 of the 15 strategic improvement opportunities and 68 of the 77 associated projects by June 2015, and the remaining improvement opportunity and 9 associated projects by December 2016. However, as of November 2015, DHS had fully implemented only 1 of the strategic improvement opportunities, which included 2 associated projects. DHS has partially implemented 5 of the other strategic improvement opportunities, but it is unknown when they will be fully addressed. As one example, HRIT’s only active program—PALMS—is intended to fully address HRIT’s Performance Management strategic improvement opportunity area; however, while progress to implement PALMS has been made, many actions remain before it can be fully implemented and it is unknown when those actions will be taken. Further, HRIT officials stated that DHS has not yet started to work on the remaining 9 improvement opportunities, and the officials did not know when they would be addressed.

GAO also reported in February 2016 that DHS had made limited progress in achieving two performance targets related to the delivery of human resources IT services across DHS, as identified in DHS’s HRIT strategic plan for fiscal years 2012 through 2016. This plan outlined the investment’s key goals and objectives, including reducing duplication and improving efficiencies in the department’s human resources processes and systems. The plan also identified two performance metrics that were focused on reductions in the number of component-specific human resources IT services provided and increases in the number of department-wide HRIT services provided by the end of fiscal year 2016.  The figure below provides a summary of HRIT’s limited progress towards achieving its performance targets.

Human Resources Information Technology’s Progress towards Achieving Its Performance Targets, as of November 2015

Human Resources Information Technology’s Progress towards Achieving Its Performance Targets, as of November 2015


  • DHS’s goal is to reduce its component-specific HRIT services by 46 percentage points—from 81 percent to 35 percent—however, it had reduced these services by 8 percentage points as of November 2015, according to OCHCO officials.
  • Additionally, while DHS is aiming to increase its DHS-wide HRIT services by 38 percentage points—from 2 percent to 40 percent—as of November 2015, OCHCO officials stated that the department had increased these services by 8 percentage points.

Among other things, GAO reported that a key cause for DHS’s lack of progress in implementing HRIT and its associated strategic improvement opportunities was the lack of involvement of the HRIT executive steering committee. This committee—which is chaired by the department’s Under Secretary for Management and co-chaired by the Chief Information Officer and Chief Human Capital Officer—is intended to be the core oversight and advisory body for all DHS-wide matters related to human capital IT investments, expenditures, projects, and initiatives. In addition, according to the committee’s charter, the committee is to approve and provide guidance on the department’s mission, vision, and strategies for the HRIT program.

However, the executive steering committee only met once from September 2013 through June 2015—in July 2014—and was minimally involved with HRIT for that period. In addition, DHS replaced its Chief Information Officer (the executive steering committee’s co-chair) in December 2013. Also during this period, PALMS was experiencing significant problems, including schedule slippages and frequent turnover in its program manager position. As a result of the executive steering committee not meeting, key governance activities were not completed on HRIT. For example, the committee did not approve HRIT’s notional operational plan for fiscal years 2014 through 2019. OCHCO and OCIO officials attributed the lack of HRIT executive steering committee meetings and committee involvement in HRIT to the investment’s focus being only on the PALMS program to address its issues. However, because the committee did not regularly meet and provide oversight during a time when a new co-chair for the executive steering committee assumed responsibility and PALMS was experiencing problems, the committee’s guidance to the troubled program was limited.

As we reported in February, the HRIT executive steering committee met in June and October 2015, and OCIO and OCHCO officials stated that the committee planned to meet quarterly going forward. However, while the committee’s charter specified that it meet on at least a monthly basis for the first year, the charter did not specify the frequency of meetings following that year. Furthermore, the committee’s charter had not been updated to reflect the increased frequency of these meetings. In response to our February report, OCIO officials stated that the executive steering committee met twice in February and, going forward, will be meeting on a regular schedule. Officials also stated that they are in the process of updating their HRIT committee charter.

Nevertheless, as a result of the limited progress in implementing HRIT, DHS is unaware of when critical weaknesses, including unnecessary duplication and inefficient fragmentation in the department’s human capital environment, will be addressed, which, among other things, impacts DHS’s ability to efficiently and effectively carry out its mission. Additionally, without HRIT’s executive steering committee effectively carrying out its oversight responsibility, DHS is limited in its ability to improve HRIT investment results and accountability.

HRIT’s 2011 Blueprint May Not Be Valid and Reflective of DHS’s Current Priorities and Goals

GAO also reported in February 2016 that HRIT’s blueprint may not be valid and reflective of DHS’s current priorities and goals. According to the HRIT executive steering committee’s charter, the Under Secretary for Management (as the chair of the committee) is to ensure that the department’s human resources IT business needs are met, as outlined in the blueprint. Also, according to the GPRA (Government Performance and Results Act) Modernization Act of 2010, agency strategic plans should be updated at least every 4 years. While the Human Capital Segment Architecture blueprint does not fall under the category of an “agency strategic plan,” the requirement to update at least every 4 years is considered a leading practice for other strategic planning documents, such as the blueprint.

The department issued the blueprint in August 2011 (approximately 4.5 years ago) and has not updated it since. As a result, the department does not know whether the remaining 14 strategic improvement opportunities and associated projects that it has not fully implemented—many of which were to help reduce duplicative and fragmented systems and processes—are still valid and reflect DHS’s current priorities and are appropriately prioritized based on current mission and business needs. Additionally, DHS does not know whether new or emerging opportunities or business needs need to be addressed.

Officials stated that the department is still committed to implementing the blueprint but agreed that it should be re-evaluated. To this end, OCHCO and OCIO officials told GAO that HRIT was asked by the Deputy Under Secretary of Management in late October 2015 to re-evaluate the blueprint’s strategic improvement opportunities and to determine the way forward for those improvement opportunities and the HRIT investment. However, officials did not know when this re-evaluation and determination would occur.

Further, according to OCIO officials, DHS has not updated its complete systems inventory since it was originally developed as part of the blueprint effort. DHS developed the original systems inventory in response to a 2010 Office of Inspector General report that stated that DHS had not identified all human resource systems at the components. This report also emphasized that without an accurate inventory of human resource systems, DHS cannot determine whether components are using redundant systems. Moreover, OCIO officials were unable to identify whether and how DHS’s inventory of human resources systems had changed. Without time frames for re-evaluating the blueprint to reflect DHS’s HRIT current priorities and an updated human resources system inventory, the department is limited in its ability to address the duplicative, fragmented, and inefficient human resources environment that has plagued the department since it was first created.

Actions Needed

In February 2016, GAO recommended that the Secretary of Homeland Security direct the Under Secretary of Management to take the following two actions:

  • Update the HRIT executive steering committee charter to establish the frequency with which HRIT executive steering committee meetings are to be held.
  • Ensure that the HRIT executive steering committee is consistently involved in overseeing and advising HRIT, including approving key program management documents, such as HRIT’s operational plan.

Additionally, GAO recommended that the Secretary of Homeland Security direct the Under Secretary of Management to direct the Chief Human Capital Officer to direct the HRIT investment to take the following three actions:

  • Establish time frames for re-evaluating the strategic improvement opportunities and associated projects in the Human Capital Segment Architecture Blueprint and determining how to move forward with HRIT.
  • Evaluate the strategic improvement opportunities and projects within the Human Capital Segment Architecture Blueprint to determine whether they and the goals of the blueprint are still valid and reflect DHS’s HRIT priorities going forward, and update the blueprint accordingly.
  • Update and maintain the department’s human resources system inventory.

Financial benefits associated with these actions cannot be quantified because they are related to programs and projects for implementing human resources process changes and potential future systems whose costs have not yet been determined. However, taking these actions should help result in the implementation of department-wide human resources systems, rather than duplicative, component-specific systems, which should enable a more efficient use of human resources system investment dollars.

How GAO Conducted Its Work

The information contained in this analysis is based on findings from the product listed in the related GAO products section. To perform this work, GAO compared HRIT’s goals, scope, and implementation time frames (as defined in the Human Capital Segment Architecture Blueprint, which was completed in August 2011) to the investment’s actual accomplishments. Specifically, GAO compared the completed and in-progress HRIT projects against the strategic improvement opportunities and projects that were outlined in the blueprint to determine which of the improvement opportunities and projects had been fully implemented or were in-progress. GAO also compared DHS’s planned schedule for implementing the improvement opportunities and projects against DHS’s current planned schedule for implementing them as of November 2015. GAO interviewed officials from DHS’s Office of the Chief Information Officer and Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer, as well as DHS’s eight components, to obtain additional information on how HRIT reduced or would reduce duplicative human resources systems.

Agency Comments & GAO Contact

In commenting on the February 2016 report on which this analysis is based, DHS concurred with GAO’s recommendations and identified initial actions that it had taken to evaluate HRIT and improve oversight of the investment. The department also identified estimated completion dates for implementing GAO’s recommendations.

GAO provided a draft of this report section to DHS for review and comment. The department provided technical comments, which GAO incorporated, as appropriate.

For additional information about this area, contact Carol R. Cha at (202) 512-4456 or, or Rebecca S. Gambler at (202) 512-6912 or

Explore Other Areas

Jump to another area below related to this mission.