Homeland Security:

Effective Intergovernmental Coordination is Key to Success

GAO-02-1013T: Published: Aug 23, 2002. Publicly Released: Aug 23, 2002.

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Paul L. Posner
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The challenges posed by homeland security exceed the capacity and authority of any one level of government. Protecting the nation against these threats calls for a truly integrated approach, bringing together the resources of all levels of government. The proposed Department of Homeland Security will clearly have a central role in efforts to enhance homeland security. The proposed consolidation of homeland security programs has the potential to reduce fragmentation, improve coordination, and clarify roles and responsibilities. Realistically, the challenges that the new department faces will clearly require substantial time and effort, and it will take additional resources to make it effective. Moreover, formation of a department should not be considered a replacement for the timely issuance of a national homeland security strategy to guide implementation of the complex mission of the department. Appropriate roles and responsibilities within and between the levels of government and with the private sector are evolving and need to be clarified. New threats are prompting a reassessment and shifting of long-standing roles and responsibilities, but these shifts are being considered on a piecemeal basis without benefit of an overarching framework and criteria to guide the process. A national strategy could provide such guidance by more systematically identifying the unique capacities and resources of each level of government to enhance homeland security and by providing increased accountability within the intergovernmental system. The nation does not yet have performance goals and measures upon which to assess and improve preparedness and develop common criteria that can demonstrate success, promote accountability, and determine areas where additional resources are needed, such as improving communications and equipment interoperability. A careful choice of the most appropriate tools is critical to achieve and sustain national goals. The choice and design of policy tools, such as grants, regulations, and tax incentives, can enhance the capacity of all levels of government to target areas of highest risk and greatest need, promote shared responsibilities, and track progress toward achieving preparedness goals.

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