GAO Says Inefficient Homeland Security IT Puts Country At Risk

With CIO Steve Cooper set to depart in just over a week, the Department of Homeland Security continues to face big IT challenges.

In congressional testimony given Wednesday, a top Government Accountability Office official said the department has made progress in the past several years, but much more needs to be accomplished before it will have fully established a departmentwide IT management framework.

Norman Rabkin told the House Homeland Security Committee's Subcommittee on Management, Integration, and Oversight that the GAO continues to consider the department's transformation as a high-risk area, a designation it received in 2003 when Homeland Security was formed from 22 agencies. "DHS faced a broad array of operational and management challenges that it inherited from its component legacy agencies," Rabkin said. "DHS's failure to effectively address its management challenges and program risks could have serious consequences for our national security."

Rabkin cited a number of IT management concerns of the GAO, the investigative arm of Congress. First, he said, the department must strengthen strategic planning, develop an enterprise architecture, improve management of systems development and acquisition, and strengthen security to fully develop and institutionalize the management framework.

To assist the department, Rabkin said, the GAO has made numerous recommendations, including limiting IT investments until the department's strategic management framework is completed and available to effectively guide and constrain the billions of dollars that Homeland Security's is spending on such investments.

Rabkin also recommended that the department grant more authority to its CIO so that person could more effectively support the department's mission. Unlike most federal CIOs, Homeland Security's top business technologist does not report directly to the Cabinet secretary, and early reports from the GAO called for the promotion of the post.

In addition, Rabkin said the department must ensure that it develops and implements a well-defined enterprise architecture to guide and constrain business transformation and support system modernization.

If the department fails to make these changes to its IT framework, he said, programs aimed at tracking foreigners entering the country and monitoring shipments crossing borders could be in jeopardy.