Fast Facts

The Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Office of Inspector General has faced work quality concerns, high leadership turnover, and more. This office is critical for ensuring independent and objective oversight of DHS.

Our work on the management and operations of this office identified long-standing management weaknesses, including:

  • It has operated for 4 of the last 6 years, including 2020, without a strategic plan.
  • It has not established roles and responsibilities for an organization-wide quality assurance program.
  • The time it takes to complete reports increased over the 4 fiscal years we assessed.

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Highlights

What GAO Found

Since fiscal year 2015, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) has not adhered to a number of professional standards for federal OIGs and key practices for effective management. Frequent leadership turnover and associated shifts in leadership priorities have contributed to DHS OIG's long-standing management and operational weaknesses and impeded efforts to address them. DHS OIG senior leaders acknowledge that various challenges have contributed to these weaknesses, and have taken steps to begin to address some of them, as follows:

  • Organizational performance management: DHS OIG has operated for 4 of the past 6 years without a strategic plan. This limits its ability to implement other organizational performance management activities, such as annual planning and performance assessment. In the absence of a strategic plan, GAO found that DHS OIG staff may not understand its oversight priorities and goals, which can negatively affect operations and staff performance. In 2020, DHS OIG contracted with a nonprofit academy of government experts to develop a strategic plan for fiscal years 2021–2025, with expected completion in June 2021.
  • Quality assurance: DHS OIG has not developed or implemented organization-wide roles and responsibilities for quality assurance. DHS OIG retracted some reports in recent years because they did not adhere to professional standards. Because there is no overarching system of internal quality assurance for audit, inspection, evaluation, and other work, DHS OIG cannot know if its internal processes ensure that its work (1) adheres to its policies and (2) meets established standards of performance.
  • Report timeliness: Project time frames have increased in recent years, and DHS OIG has not taken steps to understand the causes of such increases or determine how to address them. For example, in the Office of Audits, eight of 102 projects completed in fiscal year 2017 took more than 18 months, compared to more than half (35 of 67) of projects completed in fiscal year 2020. Without timely DHS OIG reports, DHS's ability to respond to such oversight efforts and Congress's ability to conduct effective oversight of DHS operations are limited.
  • Coordination with DHS: DHS OIG does not have a consistent process for coordinating with DHS components to receive and respond to technical and management comments on DHS OIG audit, inspection, and evaluation work. Further, DHS officials do not have confidence in DHS OIG's processes to (1) correct factual errors before finalizing reports and (2) redact sensitive but unclassified information before publicly issuing reports. As a result, the process by which DHS OIG resolves DHS's comments is at risk of miscommunication and misunderstandings.

These and additional weaknesses GAO identified are of particular concern given that OIGs need to maintain high standards of professionalism and integrity in light of their mission, according to quality standards for federal OIGs. Without addressing these and other long-standing management and operational weaknesses, DHS OIG is not well positioned to fulfill its oversight mission.

Why GAO Did This Study

DHS OIG plays a critical role in overseeing DHS, which encompasses multiple components and programs and has tens of billions of dollars in annual budgetary resources. However, DHS OIG has faced a number of long-standing management and operational challenges that have affected its ability to carry out its oversight mission effectively.

GAO was asked to review DHS OIG's management and operations. This report addresses the extent to which DHS OIG adheres to professional standards and key practices in its management and operations, among other objectives.

GAO reviewed DHS OIG management and operations from fiscal year 2015 through fiscal year 2020. GAO evaluated DHS OIG's processes against quality standards for federal OIGs, relevant federal standards for internal control, and human capital and organizational change leading practices. To do so, GAO reviewed DHS OIG documents, interviewed officials, and analyzed DHS OIG data and published reports.

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Recommendations

GAO is making 21 recommendations to DHS OIG to address management and operational weaknesses related to performance management, quality assurance, reporting timeliness, and coordination with DHS, among others.

DHS OIG concurred with each of GAO's 21 recommendations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Office of Inspector General The Inspector General should follow key organizational transformation practices when implementing any future changes in its organizational structure. (Recommendation 1)
Open
DHS OIG agreed with this recommendation. In April 2021, the Inspector General announced several organizational changes to reorganize existing functions into two new offices--the Office of Integrity and the Office of Innovation. In response to our report and this recommendation, DHS OIG stated that it followed key practices for organizational transformation in implementing these changes. We are in the process of reviewing documentation related to these changes to determine the extent to which DHS OIG followed the key practices. Irrespective of our determination regarding the April 2021 organizational changes, this recommendation will remain open pending additional steps related to another recommendation that we made--that DHS OIG should evaluate the structure of the organization and clearly define the responsibilities of each division and program office to ensure they are aligned with the OIG's strategic objectives and priorities, once DHS OIG establishes them in its strategic plan (Recommendation 10). DHS OIG also agreed with that recommendation. Given that actions to implement Recommendation 10 could result in additional organizational changes, we will determine whether this recommendation (Recommendation 1) has been fully addressed once that evaluation of the organizational structure has been completed.
Office of Inspector General The Inspector General should develop and implement a process to assess the nature, scope, and inherent risks of DHS programs as part of a risk-based planning system and to serve as the basis for its annual work plans and organizational performance management processes. (Recommendation 2)
Open
DHS OIG agreed with this recommendation. In October 2021, DHS OIG officials told us they have contracted with National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) to review their risk-based planning systems and provide additional guidance. They also stated that they have taken interim steps, such as establishing a dashboard to provide DHS OIG leadership real-time visibility of the alignment of ongoing OIG work with DHS's missions and strategic goals in order to support work planning. We will continue to monitor DHS OIG's efforts to address this recommendation.
Office of Inspector General The Inspector General should develop and implement an annual work planning process, as part of a risk-based planning system, that identifies the activities to audit, inspect, or evaluate. (Recommendation 3)
Open
DHS OIG agreed with this recommendation. In October 2021, DHS OIG officials said they had completed FY 2022 work plans for audit, inspection, and evaluation work. We are in the process of requesting and reviewing related documentation, and we will continue to monitor DHS OIG's efforts to address this recommendation.
Office of Inspector General The Inspector General should implement organizational performance management processes that are consistent with professional standards and leading practices. Such processes should include (1) developing a strategic plan that documents goals, objectives, and performance measures; (2) developing annual performance plans that translate strategic priorities into outcome-related goals, objectives, and performance measures; and (3) collecting and using data to assess progress as well as identify areas for improvements or corrective actions. (Recommendation 4)
Open
DHS OIG agreed with this recommendation. In July 2021, DHS OIG issued its FY 2022-2026 strategic plan. In September 2021, DHS OIG finalized its FY 2022 annual performance plan, and officials said they will subsequently align senior executive performance goals with these plans. We will continue to monitor DHS OIG's efforts to address this recommendation.
Office of Inspector General The Inspector General should develop and implement a workforce plan that translates DHS OIG's strategic priorities into skill sets and competencies and identifies strategies for meeting those workforce needs. (Recommendation 5)
Open
DHS OIG agreed with this recommendation. In July 2021, DHS OIG issued its FY 2022-2026 strategic plan. In October 2021, DHS OIG officials said that the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) will provide support and guidance in the development of a workforce plan for DHS OIG. We will continue to monitor DHS OIG's efforts to address this recommendation.
Office of Inspector General The Inspector General should develop and implement a process to allocate human capital resources based on the organization's current and emerging strategic objectives and priorities, once DHS OIG establishes them in its strategic plan. (Recommendation 6)
Open
DHS OIG agreed with this recommendation. In July 2021, DHS OIG issued its FY 2022-2026 strategic plan. In October 2021, DHS OIG officials said that the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) will provide support and guidance in the development of a human capital plan for DHS OIG. We will continue to monitor DHS OIG's efforts to address this recommendation.
Office of Inspector General The Inspector General should develop and implement a process to develop succession plans to determine how critical leadership roles will be filled in the event of planned and unplanned vacancies. (Recommendation 7)
Open
DHS OIG agreed with this recommendation. In July 2021, DHS OIG issued its FY 2022-2026 strategic plan. In October 2021, DHS OIG officials said that they plan to address our recommendation regarding a workforce plan (Recommendation 5) prior to developing a succession plan. We will continue to monitor DHS OIG's efforts to address this recommendation.
Office of Inspector General The Inspector General should develop and implement an updated performance management policy. (Recommendation 8)
Open
DHS OIG agreed with this recommendation. In October 2021, DHS OIG officials said they have drafted a performance management policy that is under review. We will continue to monitor DHS OIG's efforts to address this recommendation.
Office of Inspector General The Inspector General should develop and implement a process to provide regular training and support for staff and supervisors so that they can consistently apply the organization's performance management policy, once DHS OIG develops and implements an updated performance management policy. (Recommendation 9)
Open
DHS OIG agreed with this recommendation. As we reported in June 2021, DHS OIG had taken steps to deliver performance management training, including training for supervisors in the summer and fall of 2020 and training for new hires from November 2020 through January 2021. However, we noted in our report that the performance management sessions did not appear to be recurring trainings and, according to one DHS OIG senior leader, the organization had not determined how frequently those trainings would be delivered. DHS OIG officials said that they provided training to all managers on year-end performance management in September 2021. In October 2021, DHS OIG officials said they are evaluating the necessary frequency of refresher training for all managers and noted that they plan to align routine training with an updated performance management policy (to be issued in response to one of our other recommendations, Recommendation 8) once it is completed. We will continue to monitor DHS OIG's efforts to address this recommendation.
Office of Inspector General The Inspector General should evaluate the structure of the organization and clearly define the responsibilities of each division and program office to ensure they are aligned with the OIG's strategic objectives and priorities, once DHS OIG establishes them in its strategic plan. (Recommendation 10)
Open
DHS OIG agreed with this recommendation. In August 2021, DHS OIG officials noted that the agency implemented organizational changes in April 2021 to ensure programs and offices were aligned to allow for efficiency and effectiveness in conducting the OIG's mission. We are in the process of reviewing documentation related to those organizational changes (in response to another recommendation, Recommendation 1) and will assess the extent to which this change included an evaluation of the structure of the organization. We will continue to monitor DHS OIG's efforts to address this recommendation.
Office of Inspector General The Inspector General should implement a process to identify, analyze, and determine the appropriate response to risks—that is, the internal and external risks to achieving the organization's goals and objectives—once DHS OIG establishes them in its strategic plan. (Recommendation 11)
Open
DHS OIG agreed with this recommendation. In October 2021, DHS OIG officials said they were evaluating the agency's previous risk work to determine next steps. We will continue to monitor DHS OIG's efforts to address this recommendation.
Office of Inspector General The Inspector General should implement a process for developing, reviewing, approving, and managing its organizational policies. (Recommendation 12)
Open
DHS OIG agreed with this recommendation. In August 2021, DHS OIG officials noted that they had drafted a delegation of authorities, though work on that effort was paused while the agency implemented organizational changes in April 2021. Officials said that once they finalize the delegations of authorities, they plan to establish an organizational policy review, approval, and management process. We will continue to monitor DHS OIG's efforts to address this recommendation.
Office of Inspector General The Inspector General should develop and implement a process to ensure that all DHS OIG reports include a compliance statement that identifies the appropriate professional standards to which the work in that report adhered. (Recommendation 13)
Open
DHS OIG agreed with this recommendation. In September 2021, DHS OIG provided us with updated guidance documents that address professional standards and compliance statements. We are in the process of reviewing these documents and meeting with officials to assess implementation.
Office of Inspector General The Inspector General should develop and implement guidance to govern how Office of Audits or Office of Special Reviews and Evaluations work that does not adhere to (1) government auditing standards for audits or (2) CIGIE standards for inspections and evaluations is to be planned, completed, and reported. This guidance should describe how DHS OIG ensures that such work adheres to federal OIG standards of independence, due professional care, and quality assurance. (Recommendation 14)
Open
DHS OIG agreed with our recommendation. In August 2021, DHS OIG officials said that all work that DHS OIG is initiating is to adhere to either generally accepted government auditing standards (GAGAS) or CIGIE standards for inspections and evaluations. They noted that there are two ongoing projects that were not initiated under these standards, and they provided the planned compliance statements to be used in those reports. In April 2021, DHS OIG's Office of Inspections and Evaluation updated its manual to note that the office will only conduct inspections and evaluations according to CIGIE standards. The manual further states that the processes detailed in the manual ensure adherence to the CIGIE inspection and evaluation standards, and the manual cites relevant CIGIE standards. However, DHS OIG officials have not yet identified any formal means of documenting the expectation that Office of Audits work would comply with either GAGAS or CIGIE inspection and evaluation standards. We will continue to monitor DHS OIG's efforts to address this recommendation.
Office of Inspector General The Inspector General should develop and implement an organization-wide quality assurance program, including establishing a structure, responsibility, and authority for implementing quality assurance in all DHS OIG work. (Recommendation 15)
Open
DHS OIG agreed with this recommendation. In August 2021, DHS OIG officials said that they are in the process of drafting a policy that will establish the organization-wide quality assurance program. We will continue to monitor DHS OIG's efforts to address this recommendation.
Office of Inspector General The Inspector General should develop and implement a process to ensure that DHS OIG's internal quality assurance reviews are comprehensive and that these reviews regularly assess Office of Audits and Office of Special Reviews and Evaluations work that is conducted according to each of (1) audit; (2) inspection and evaluation; and (3) other standards or authorities. (Recommendation 16)
Open
DHS OIG agreed with this recommendation. In August 2021, DHS OIG officials said that they are developing a process to ensure that work from the Office of Audits and the Office of Inspections and Evaluations is regularly assessed and that such work is conducted according to the appropriate standards. We will continue to monitor DHS OIG's efforts to address this recommendation.
Office of Inspector General The Inspector General should develop and implement a process for assessing actual time frames against planned and target time frames for Office of Audits and Office of Special Reviews and Evaluations work. (Recommendation 17)
Open
DHS OIG agreed with this recommendation. In August 2021, DHS OIG officials said that the Office of Audits and Office of Inspections and Evaluation (formerly the Office of Special Reviews and Evaluations) have established target time frames and are assessing engagements against those time frames. In October 2021, they also said that the newly established Office of Innovation has created an online dashboard to allow DHS OIG to track project time frames. We will continue to monitor DHS OIG's efforts to address this recommendation.
Office of Inspector General The Inspector General should develop and implement a process to ensure that program offices consistently use DHS OIG's data system to track project milestones. (Recommendation 18)
Open
DHS OIG agreed with this recommendation. As we noted in our June 2021 report, DHS OIG has hired a contractor to conduct an analysis of its data systems and needs and to identify gaps and alternatives related to its data systems. The full modernization effort is expected to take several years, according to officials, and could lead to improvements how DHS OIG tracks milestones associated with its projects, among many other information technology improvements. In August 2021, DHS OIG officials said that program offices are required to use the currently in-place project tracking system and the agency has developed a dashboard tool to assist offices in using the existing system to monitor project milestones. We will continue to monitor DHS OIG's efforts to address this recommendation.
Office of Inspector General The Inspector General should update its report review directive, including reviewer roles, responsibilities, and time frames, for draft and final reviews of Office of Audits and Office of Special Reviews and Evaluations work. (Recommendation 19)
Open
DHS OIG agreed with this recommendation. In August 2021, DHS OIG officials said they are reviewing the report review directive. We will continue to monitor DHS OIG's efforts to address this recommendation.
Office of Inspector General The Inspector General should develop and implement a consistent process for DHS OIG program offices to coordinate with DHS to receive and respond to technical and management comments about Office of Audit and Office of Special Reviews and Evaluations work. (Recommendation 20)
Open
DHS OIG agreed with this recommendation. In August 2021, DHS OIG officials said that they are examining the process for coordinating with DHS and will be sharing their planned approach with DHS. We will continue to monitor DHS OIG's efforts to address this recommendation.
Office of Inspector General As the Inspector General takes steps to implement recommendations in this report—and in doing so, transform the organization's management and operations—the Inspector General should follow key organizational transformation practices. These practices include (1) ensuring top leadership drives the transformation, (2) setting implementation goals and a timeline, (3) dedicating an implementation team to manage the transformation process, and (4) involving employees to obtain their ideas and gain their ownership for the transformation. (Recommendation 21)
Open
DHS OIG agreed with this recommendation. In August 2021, DHS OIG officials said that the Inspector General has appointed an executive sponsor to lead implementation of each of our recommendations. In October 2021, officials provided a copy of the fiscal year 2022 annual performance plan, which includes steps related to the organizational transformation. DHS OIG has also contracted with outside organizations to provide expertise on organizational management and operations. One of these organizations--the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA)--is to develop an action plan for implementing some of our recommendations, and DHS OIG expects to receive these implementation goals and timelines from NAPA in December 2021. We will continue to monitor DHS OIG's efforts to address this recommendation.

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