Status of Key Recommendations GAO Has Made to DHS and Its Legacy Agencies

GAO-04-865R: Published: Jul 2, 2004. Publicly Released: Jul 16, 2004.

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Randall A. Yim
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Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the federal government has undertaken numerous actions to enhance the nation's homeland security, including the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). One of the primary reasons for the establishment of DHS was to unify the vast national network of organizations and institutions involved in efforts to protect our nation. Since it began operations on March 1, 2003, DHS has faced enormous challenges to protect the nation from terrorism while it organizes itself into a coherent and integrated agency. We support Congress by reviewing various government programs and activities to help improve their performance and accountability. When our work identifies a significant need for action by the Congress or an agency, we develop recommended solutions. These recommendations identify actions we believe the department, agency, bureau, or office should implement to ensure government programs operate effectively and efficiently. This report responds to a Congressional request that we provide status information on key recommendations we have made to DHS and its legacy agencies. On June 30, 2004, we briefed Congress on the results of our review. This report transmits information provided during that briefing, including (1) the status of key GAO recommendations issued to DHS, (2) timeframes DHS established for implementing key recommendations, and (3) challenges DHS faces in implementing such recommendations.

As of June 28, 2004, DHS had implemented 40 of 104 recommendations that we consider key to the agency's ability to effectively fulfill its homeland security mission. DHS is currently addressing another 63 key recommendations. Additionally, GAO closed one key recommendation in August 2001, although action taken by one of DHS's legacy agencies did not fully address the intent of the recommendation prior to closure. Of the 104 key recommendations issued to DHS, 38 were issued prior to the agency's official formation on March 1, 2003. Of these, 20 have been fully implemented. The other 66 recommendations were issued after the creation of DHS. Of these 66, 20 have been fully implemented. More than half of the key recommendations--60--have been directed to BTS or its legacy agencies, which address border and transportation security as well as immigration enforcement. Of these, 27 have been fully implemented, while another 33 are currently being addressed by BTS. DHS's efforts to address the key recommendations have generated positive results toward improved mission effectiveness. For example, the 27 recommendations fully implemented within DHS's BTS directorate have resulted in a reduction in the vulnerabilities and inefficiencies of the land ports of entry inspection process. BTS has also benefited with respect to more timely and accurate information pertaining to the smuggling of aliens and the legal status of immigrants. Within the EPR directorate, the implementation of 3 of the key 6 recommendations have resulted in improved emergency response and related planning efforts. DHS provided documentation and other information to us describing specific actions taken by the agency or its legacy agencies to implement 55 of the 63 remaining key recommendations. This documentation provides information on timeframes for planned implementation of actions pertaining to 38 of the recommendations. For example, one document describes preparation of a National Plan for Critical Infrastructure and Key Resources Protection, with a completion date of December 17, 2004. DHS did not provide timeframes for 6 key recommendations because it maintains that it has taken action to fully implement these recommendations. Effective implementation of the remaining 63 key recommendations could also help to strengthen mission effectiveness. For example, effective implementation of the remaining 33 recommendations related to the BTS directorate could result in reducing the nation's current security vulnerabilities in such activities as passenger screening, border security, and ports of entry. Similarly, the implementation of the remaining 3 recommendations related to the EPR directorate could better position the federal government to provide essential services in the event of a disaster. While DHS is working to address the remaining 63 key recommendations, agency documents and other information DHS provided indicated that the agency faces challenges related to 24 of these recommendations, such as funding and other resource constraints. These challenges will need to be overcome for DHS to effectively address these recommendations.

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