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Homeland Security Moves Closer to Getting Off GAO's High-Risk List

Continuing problems include poor morale.

The Homeland Security Department has taken significant steps toward earning removal from the Government Accountability Office’s high-risk list, GAO reported.

In an array of high-risk areas in which DHS bears sole responsibility—management functions, flood insurance, cybersecurity and terrorism information sharing—managers are demonstrating clear progress, though more is needed, GAO said in a report released Thursday.

In strengthening management functions, DHS met GAO criteria for leadership commitment and corrective action to reduce management risks. But it only met the criteria for having sufficient resources, having a framework to monitor progress and demonstrating sustained progress. In human capital management, for example, GAO noted that DHS ranked a lowly 36th of 37 agencies in employee job satisfaction as indicated in the Office of Personnel Management’s annual Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey. “DHS has considerable work ahead to improve its employee morale,” GAO wrote.

In the acquisition area, “DHS has made progress in initiating efforts to validate required acquisition documents,” but half of major programs “lack an approved baseline, 77 percent lack approved life-cycle cost estimates and the department has not implemented its acquisition policy consistently,” the report said.

In financial management, the department needs to “eliminate all material weaknesses at the department level in areas such as property, plant and equipment before its financial auditor can assert that the controls are effective," GAO stated. 

Auditors also said that in information technology management, DHS must finalize the key governance directive and implement it across all 13 of its investment portfolios.

In the National Flood Insurance Program, which is in debt to the Treasury Department by $24 billion, managers at the Federal Emergency Management Agency need to modernize the claims and policy management system and oversee compensation of insurers that sell NFIP policies.

The watchdog said DHS also needs to continually diagnose day-to-day threats to computer network protection capabilities, and to better coordinate fusion centers with field offices in sharing intelligence to help prevent terrorist attacks.

GAO noted that DHS has implemented 65 percent of auditors’ recommendations made since 2003 and has plans to implement others.