Department of Homeland Security:

Progress Report on Implementation of Mission and Management Functions

GAO-07-454: Published: Aug 17, 2007. Publicly Released: Sep 6, 2007.

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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 since its establishment. DHS began operations in March 2003 with the mission to prevent terrorist attacks within the United States, reduce vulnerabilities, minimize damages from attacks, and aid in recovery efforts. GAO has reported that the creation of DHS 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 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. GAO was asked to report on DHS's progress in implementing its mission and management areas and challenges DHS faces. This report also discusses key themes that have affected DHS's implementation efforts.

At the time of its creation in 2003 as one of the largest federal reorganizations in the last several decades, we designated the implementation and transformation of DHS as a high-risk area due to the magnitude of the challenges it confronted in areas vital to the physical and economic well being of the nation. After 4 years into its overall integration effort, DHS has attained some level of progress in all of its mission and management areas. The rate of progress, however, among these areas varies. Key underlying themes have affected DHS's implementation efforts, and will be essential for the department to address as it moves forward. These include management, risk management, information sharing, and partnerships and coordination. For example, while DHS has made progress in transforming its component agencies into a fully functioning department, it has not yet addressed key elements of the transformation process, such as developing a comprehensive strategy for agency transformation and ensuring that management systems and functions are integrated. This lack of a comprehensive strategy and integrated management systems and functions limits DHS's ability to carry out its homeland security responsibilities in an effective, risk-based way. DHS also has not yet fully adopted and applied a risk management approach in implementing its mission and management functions. Some DHS component agencies, such as the Transportation Security Administration and the Coast Guard, have taken steps to do so, but DHS has not yet taken sufficient actions to ensure that this approach is 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, such as in ensuring that the private sector receives better information on potential threats. Given DHS's dominant role in securing the homeland, it is critical that the department's mission and management programs are operating as efficiently and effectively as possible. DHS has had to undertake these responsibilities 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 of its progress toward achieving desired outcomes. 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 address those obstacles and effectively implement its missions.

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