Department of Homeland Security:

Progress Report on Implementation of Mission and Management Functions

GAO-07-1081T: Published: Sep 6, 2007. Publicly Released: Sep 6, 2007.

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Norman J. Rabkin
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The Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) recent 4-year anniversary provides an opportunity to reflect on the progress DHS has made. The creation of DHS was one of the largest federal reorganizations in the last several decades, and GAO has reported that it was an enormous management challenge and that the size, complexity, and importance of the effort made the challenge especially daunting and critical to the nation's security. Our prior work on mergers and acquisitions has found that successful transformations of large organizations, even those faced with less strenuous reorganizations than DHS, can take at least 5 to 7 years to achieve. This testimony is based on our August 2007 report evaluating DHS's progress since March 2003. Specifically, it addresses DHS's progress across 14 mission and management areas and key themes that have affected DHS's implementation efforts.

Since its establishment in March 2003, DHS has made varying levels of progress in implementing its mission and management areas, as shown in the following table. In general, DHS has made more progress in its mission areas than in its management areas. Within its mission areas, DHS has made progress in developing plans and programs, but has faced challenges in its implementation efforts. Key underlying themes have affected DHS's implementation efforts. These include strategies to achieve agency transformation, strategic planning and results management, risk management, information sharing, and partnerships and coordination. For example, we have designated DHS's implementation and transformation as high-risk. While DHS has made progress in transforming its component agencies into a fully functioning department, it has not yet addressed elements of the transformation process, such as developing a comprehensive transformation strategy. DHS also has not yet fully adopted and applied a risk management approach in implementing its mission and management functions. Some DHS component agencies have taken steps to do so, but this approach is not yet used departmentwide. In addition, DHS has taken steps to share information and coordinate with homeland security partners but has faced difficulties in these partnership efforts. Given DHS's leading role in securing the homeland, it is critical that the department's mission and management programs operate as efficiently and effectively as possible. DHS has taken important actions to secure the border and transportation sectors and to prepare for and respond to disasters. DHS has had to undertake these missions while also working to transform itself into a fully functioning cabinet department--a difficult task for any organization. As DHS moves forward, it will be important for the department to continue to develop more measurable goals to guide implementation efforts and to enable better accountability. It will also be important for DHS to continually reassess its mission and management goals, measures, and milestones to evaluate progress made, identify past and emerging obstacles, and examine alternatives to effectively address those obstacles.

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