Dysfunction and disarray at Homeland Security

An agency watchdog paints a damning picture of dysfunction and managerial disarray at the Department of Homeland Security, as President Obama struggles to get a new secretary installed for the departed Janet A. Napolitano.

The office of the inspector general at DHS warns that coordination among the department’s 22 agencies and offices remains a major challenge. Ms. Napolitano left three months ago to become president of the University of California system. Without mentioning her by name, the report points to a culture of “ineffective management” and “cost inefficiencies” that continues to plague the agency.

The report this week accuses the Department of Homeland Security of “struggling to fully integrate” its different branches, including the Transportation Security Administration, Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Coast Guard. These agencies have failed to communicate and don’t work well together, wasting millions of taxpayer dollars and putting the nation’s borders at risk.

“We have identified major challenges that affect the department as a whole, as well as every component,” Deputy Inspector General Charles Edwards says in his report. “Some of the most persistent challenges arise from the effort to combine and coordinate diverse legacy agencies into a single, cohesive organization.”

The department’s biggest problem areas as outlined by the report include management of cybersecurity, transportation security, border security and infrastructure protection.

The report also highlights a coordination problem with the H-60 helicopter program between the Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection. It says Customs could save $126 million and fly the helicopters seven years sooner if it would work with the Coast Guard to complete conversions and modifications at their facilities instead of elsewhere.

“During an audit of U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s H-60 helicopter program, we noted that increased cooperation between CBP and the United States Coast Guard in managing aviation assets would reduce redundancies and potentially save millions of dollars,” the report says. “Our audit showed that CBP did not properly oversee and manage acquisition, conversion and modification of its H-60 helicopters, which affected the cost effectiveness and timely delivery of the converted and modified H-60s.”

The report also criticizes Customs for failing to work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to monitor and detect illegal cross-border tunnels.

“In our audit of CBP’s and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s efforts to monitor and detect illegal cross-border tunnels, we reported that although CBP is creating a program to address capability gaps in counter the cross-border tunnel threat, it has not demonstrated how its detection strategy will consider ICE’s needs,” the report said. “Without taking into account both components’ needs, the department risks not being able to disrupt criminal organizations that engage in cross-border smuggling.”

The report also highlights communication problems among the department’s various agencies.

“In our audit of interoperable communications, we determined that DHS did not establish an effective governing structure with the authority and responsibility to oversee achievement of department-wise, interoperable radio communications,” the report says. “Until the department develops an effective governing structure and makes a concerted effort to attain interoperability, progress will remain limited.”

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