- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Department of Homeland Security has failed to keep track of hundreds of millions of dollars for training its workforce for nearly the entirety of its existence, according to a federal report released this week.

For instance, Congress appropriated $1.4 billion for Homeland Security training in fiscal 2014, but the department reported using only $1.9 million — less than 1 percent of the obligated funds — to the Office of Management and Budget, according to the latest report from the department’s office of inspector general.

As of August, Homeland Security’s financial office could account for only $267.6 million in training costs for the previous year.

In addition, auditors found that Homeland Security has not reported any training cost data for several agencies under its umbrella, including U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Secret Service.

What’s more, auditors found major discrepancies in training costs that were reported. In August 2014, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services — a Homeland Security agency — reported to the Office of Personnel Management that it had spent $23,893 for training. But when auditors reviewed CIS data for that month, they discovered that the agency actually had spent $435,286 for training.

Meanwhile, the Transportation Security Administration did not report any training costs to the Office of Personnel Management for January 2015 but told auditors it had spent more than $23 million for training that month.

Federal watchdogs have made 29 recommendations to improve Homeland Security’s training management and oversight over the past 12 years, but the department has made almost no progress.

“The investment of significant resources into these working groups should have resulted in the implementation of improved processes, oversight, and management of DHS workforce training,” the inspector general’s report says. “However, there is little evidence DHS has tracked or implemented any of these recommendations.”

Critics say the report supports what analysts have said for years — that the Homeland Security Department is one of the most poorly run federal bureaus.

“The Department of Homeland Security is becoming an oxymoron. In a world where protecting the homeland includes the need for top-level number crunchers to track terrorists’ bank accounts, Jeh Johnson’s Apple Dumpling Gang can’t even account for its own training expenditures,” said Richard Manning, president of Americans for Limited Government.

“Either they are really bad at balancing ledgers or they spent the money on something different from what Congress authorized; neither is acceptable,” he said. “House appropriators need to act immediately to get to the bottom of this failure, as it is either incompetence or even possibly a crime.”

For losing track of countless millions of taxpayer dollars in its training programs and ignoring repeated suggestions to improve its management, Homeland Security wins this week’s Golden Hammer, a weekly distinction awarded by The Washington Times highlighting examples of wasteful federal spending.

“For DHS to fail to implement recommendations to improve training efficiencies for 12 years is almost unfathomable if we weren’t talking about a federal government agency,” said Romina Boccia, a federal budget analyst at The Heritage Foundation. “One might conclude that taxpayers must have a nearly endless source of patience if public choice didn’t teach us that the real problem is rational ignorance.”

Responding to the report, Homeland Security said it is “committed to consistent oversight and transparency in order to ensure unity of effort, and encourage efficiency, effectiveness and accountability.”

Homeland Security officials said they plan to strengthen their accounting systems to improve transparency and accountability of training data.

Still, the department’s inability to keep track of its spending has become such a problem that Congress allocated $53 million in the fiscal 2016 budget to help update its accounting systems.

Watchdog groups say the problem goes beyond wasted tax dollars and could affect the agency’s ability to protect the homeland.

“The discrepancies in reporting hours is bad enough, but the decade-long failure of DHS to address the 29 recommendations to improve training efficiencies could directly lead to a less-effective department overall,” said Curtis Kalin, spokesman for Citizens Against Government Waste.

“The No. 1 training priority for DHS ought to be how to get better at paying attention,” said Pete Sepp, president of the National Taxpayers Union. “If DHS can’t perform this mission well, how can they perform the rest? This is about lives, not just dollars.”

The badly managed training program also could be leading to a poor work environment overall: Surveys consistently find that the Homeland Security Department has one of the lowest employee satisfaction ratings of all federal agencies.

A 2014 survey of 40,000 Homeland Security employees found that 42 percent were satisfied with the agency and 39 percent said department leaders “maintain high standards of honesty and integrity.”

“When President George W. Bush created DHS in 2002, he promised it would ‘improve efficiency without growing government,’ but instead DHS has wasted billions of dollars and it is one of the worst-managed federal departments,” said Chris Edwards, a budget analyst at the Cato Institute. “DHS has spent billions of dollars on security programs that don’t work while at the same time abusing the civil liberties of Americans.”

• Kellan Howell can be reached at khowell@washingtontimes.com.

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