Homeland Security:

Observations on the National Strategies Related to Terrorism

GAO-04-1075T: Published: Sep 22, 2004. Publicly Released: Sep 22, 2004.

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Norman J. Rabkin
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In an effort to increase homeland security following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States, the executive branch issued seven national strategies related to combating terrorism and homeland security. Per the request of the Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats, and International Relations, House Committee on Government Reform, this testimony will focus primarily on the National Strategy for Homeland Security but also include relevant aspects of the National Strategy for Combating Terrorism. Together, these two national strategies address preventing terrorist attacks within the United States, reducing America's vulnerability to terrorism, and minimizing the damage and assisting in the recovery from future attacks, if they occur. This testimony covers three topics: (1) To what extent are elements of the Homeland Security and Combating Terrorism strategies aligned with recommendations issued by the 9/11 Commission? (2) What key departments have responsibilities for implementing the Homeland Security strategy, and what actions have they taken to implement the strategy? and (3) What challenges are faced by key departments in assessing their progress towards achieving homeland security objectives? This testimony continues GAO's efforts to establish baseline assessments related to homeland security. Together, these baseline efforts are intended to aid congressional oversight in assessing the effectiveness of federal homeland security activities.

The 9/11 Commission issued 8 recommendations that were not addressed in the specific initiatives for the critical mission areas of the Homeland Security strategy or the goals and objectives of the Combating Terrorism strategy. These recommendations pertain to enhancing analytical capabilities of the Central Intelligence Agency, reorganizing the intelligence community, improving accountability of intelligence operations, leadership of the Department of Defense in paramilitary operations, continuity of national security policymaking, and modifying congressional oversight. As the national strategies are expected to evolve over time, they could reflect some of these recommendations. The remaining 33 Commission recommendations are aligned with the specific initiatives of the Homeland Security strategy or the objectives of the Combating Terrorism strategy. For example, in the area of Defending Against Catastrophic Threats, the Commission recommended that the United States prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction by expanding and supporting existing counter-proliferation initiatives. Similarly, the Homeland Security strategy includes an initiative to prevent terrorist use of nuclear weapons. The 9/11 Commission also recommended that the United States engage with other nations in developing a strategy against terrorism and an approach toward detention and humane treatment of captured terrorists. Likewise, the Combating Terrorism strategy includes an objective to establish and maintain an international standard and accountability with regard to combating terrorism. Our preliminary analysis identifies six departments--the Departments of Defense, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Justice, and State--as having key roles in implementing the Homeland Security strategy. These six departments represent 94 percent of the proposed $47 billion budget for homeland security in fiscal year 2005. In addition, our preliminary analysis shows that these six departments have lead agency roles in implementing the Homeland Security strategy. For example, DHS was designated as the lead agency for 37 of the 43 initiatives in that strategy. According to information received from agency officials, at least one of these six departments has demonstrated planning and/or implementation activities in each of the 43 initiatives. While our preliminary analysis indicates that planning or implementation activities were occurring, it was not within the scope of the analysis to assess the status or quality of the various departments' activities on each initiative. In a forthcoming report for this committee, we will provide more detailed information on these departments' efforts, including an analysis of lead agencies' current implementation activities. As key departments continue to implement the Homeland Security strategy, the development of performance goals and measures will help them assess their progress in implementing homeland security efforts. Once they are established, performance measures, such as cost-effectiveness and net benefits, can be used to link costs to outcomes. Development of standards, particularly systems and service standards, will also provide an important means to measure preparedness and guide resource investments.

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