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Department of Homeland Security: Important Progress Made, but More Work Remains to Strengthen Management Functions

GAO-17-409T Published: Feb 16, 2017. Publicly Released: Feb 16, 2017.
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What GAO Found

As GAO reported in its 2017 high-risk update, the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) efforts to strengthen and integrate its management functions have resulted in the department meeting three and partially meeting two of GAO's criteria for removal from the High-Risk List (see table). For example, senior DHS officials demonstrated exemplary leadership commitment by frequently meeting with GAO to discuss the department's progress in addressing the high-risk area. Additionally, DHS established an action plan for addressing the high-risk area, of which it has issued 10 updated versions since 2011. Since GAO's 2015 high-risk update, DHS also strengthened its monitoring efforts for financial systems modernization programs by entering into a contract for independent verification and validation services, and met the monitoring criterion for the first time. However, DHS needs to make additional progress in strengthening capacity by identifying and allocating resources in certain areas, such as staffing for acquisition and information technology positions.

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Progress in Addressing the Strengthening DHS Management Functions High-Risk Area, as of February 2017

Criterion for removal from High-Risk List


Partially metb

Not metc

Leadership commitment








Action plan




Framework to monitor progress




Demonstrated, sustained progress








Source: GAO analysis of DHS documents, interviews, and prior GAO reports. | GAO 17-409T

a“Met”: There are no significant actions that need to be taken to further address this criterion.

b“Partially met”: Some but not all actions necessary to generally meet the criterion have been taken.

c“Not met”: Few, if any, actions toward meeting the criterion have been taken.

Key to addressing the department's management challenges is DHS demonstrating the ability to achieve sustained progress across 30 outcomes that GAO identified and DHS agreed were needed to address the high-risk area. GAO found in its 2017 high-risk update that DHS fully addressed 13 of these outcomes, while work remains to fully address the remaining 17. For example, DHS fully met 1 outcome for the first time by linking workforce planning efforts to strategic and program planning efforts. DHS has mostly addressed an additional 8 outcomes, meaning that a small amount of work remains to fully address them. However, DHS has partially addressed 6 and initiated 3 of the remaining outcomes. For example, DHS does not have modernized financial management systems, which affects its ability to have ready access to reliable information for informed decision making. In addition, DHS has considerable work ahead to improve employee morale. Addressing these and some other outcomes are significant undertakings that will likely require multiyear efforts. In the 2017 high-risk update, GAO concluded that in coming years, DHS needs to continue implementing its plan for addressing the high-risk area, ensure that it has the people and resources necessary to resolve risk, and fully address the remaining 17 outcomes.

Why GAO Did This Study

GAO has regularly reported on government operations identified as high-risk because of their increased vulnerability to fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement, or the need for transformation to address economy, efficiency, or effectiveness challenges. In 2003, GAO designated implementing and transforming DHS as high-risk because DHS had to transform 22 agencies into one department, and failure to address associated risks could have serious consequences for U.S. national and economic security. Challenges remain for DHS across its range of missions, but it has made considerable progress. As a result, in its 2013 high-risk update, GAO narrowed the scope of the high-risk area to strengthening and integrating DHS management functions (human capital, acquisition, financial, and information technology).

This statement discusses, among other things, DHS's progress and actions remaining in strengthening and integrating its management functions. This statement is based on GAO's 2017 high-risk update and reports and testimonies from September 2011 through mid-February 2017. Among other things, GAO analyzed DHS strategies and interviewed DHS officials.


Since 2003, GAO has made about 2,500 recommendations to DHS to strengthen its management efforts, among other things. DHS has implemented more than 70 percent of these recommendations and has actions under way to address others.

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