WASHINGTON – The chairman of a House subcommittee that oversees the beleaguered Department of Homeland Security maintains the agency needs to look at adopting the “proven techniques and practices of successful commercial firms” to avoid the sort of “high-profile failures” that have plagued the department.
Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), chairman of the House Oversight and Management Efficiency Subcommittee, said during a hearing on DHS practices that DHS, since its creation in 2002, consistently has failed to “hold components accountable” and that officials often lack “the information necessary to make sound decisions.”
“From the outset, DHS faced significant challenges, including consolidating 22 preexisting component agencies, reporting to a multitude of congressional committees and working diligently to strike the balance between national security and protecting privacy and civil liberties,” Perry said.
But those initial difficulties have been rendered worse by the agency’s “longstanding failure to adhere to strong management practices,” Perry said.
The Secure Border Initiative Network, an integrated system of personnel, infrastructure, technology and rapid response to secure the northern and southern borders initiated in 2006, ended five years later after “wasting a billion dollars,” Perry said.
Another major failure was the installation of “puffer machines” — security devices for detecting explosives and illegal drugs – at the nation’s airports that were subsequently mothballed.
“Such mismanagement eroded public confidence in DHS and continues to hinder it today,” Perry said.
Lawmakers need to look anew at the department’s practices Perry said, because it has often “ignored risks and moved forward with unachievable programs leading to wasted taxpayer dollars and late, costly and unimpressive results.”
Perry cited two Inspector General reports released in August that concluded DHS has done a poor job tracking costs related to its warehouse inventory and conference spending. The agency could save $1 million through improved warehouse management practices.
“This might not seem like much to Washington bureaucrats, but my constituents in Pennsylvania would much prefer that money spent towards securing the border,” Perry said.
DHS, Perry said, “must learn from the proven techniques and practices of successful commercial firms.”
“Federal bureaucrats need to remember that the American people are their shareholders,” he said. “Their tax dollars must be safeguarded, not wasted. As the nation faces significant homeland security threats and our national debt continues to climb, we can afford no more mismanagement.”
Marc A. Pearl, president and CEO of the Homeland Security & Defense Business Council, told the subcommittee that it is “generally recognized that DHS needs more consistent department-wide processes and procedures to improve internal operations and become a more efficiently run organization.”
“DHS also needs measures that support industry-government dialogues that help ensure the government can effectively procure mission critical product and service solutions,” he said.
Pearl cited several problems within the agency that need to be addressed, the most obvious being a duplication of efforts.
“While progress has been made, there is still a significant need to reduce duplication among the components’ common mission services and align financial management systems, for example,” Pearl said. “DHS’ multiple financial management systems make it difficult to look across individual budgets to see the larger picture on where dollars are being spent and produces an inability to capture where cost savings could be made.”
In addition, Pearl said, little has been done to consolidate and provide common mission services across the agency.
“CBP (Customs and Border Protection), ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), and USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services), for example, experience challenges around the collection, coordination and use of immigration data,” he said. “There isn’t one centralized system that provides an individual’s complete immigration history. An operator at one component must query multiple systems and, as a result, we have a process that is time consuming, costly and frustrating to the on-ground official, from both an IT architecture and business process point of view.”
In another areas, Pearl asserted that sub-agencies within DHS do not recognize a background investigation performed by another sub-agency, characterizing the situation as “problematic, duplicative, expensive, time consuming, and frustrating.”
“This has created a barrier to entry for many contractors and is particularly unnerving for those who do business with other national security, critical infrastructure, law enforcement and financial services agencies, where they don’t have to jump through as many multiple internal agency security clearance hoops as at DHS,” Pearl said. “When DHS is hiring a contractor to work on a project, this process causes unnecessary and critical delays as to when a contractor can begin work, thereby moving schedules, significantly delaying the start of a project and wasting taxpayer money.”
Pearl added that the department should make a greater investment in its workforce, telling the committee that quality training “is always a good investment whether in the public or the private sector, for it will inevitably lead to a more successful outcome.”
“After working with and getting to know numerous government employees over my three-plus decades in DC, I would proffer that many – particularly those who have and continue to work at DHS over the past dozen years – tend to join the civil service for altruistic reasons and are motivated to serve the public and protect our nation,” Pearl said. “At the very least, leadership can continue to remind their colleagues how important and critical their mission services are to our nation, and, as a result, they will feel more job satisfaction and pride in their work. The communicating of appreciation is something that is regularly done at the most successful corporations, even amidst the frustration of one’s daily tasks.”
While many of the issues exist internally, Pearl said, Congress also plays a role in the agency’s ongoing problems, telling the subcommittee that “delayed funding harms the very efficiencies you are trying to encourage.”
“An unpredictable budget cycle has significantly impacted its ability to achieve efficiencies in many areas,” he said. “A stable, predictable budget environment is critical to any government or any company’s ability to achieve its mission, and this is particularly true to an agency as vital, large, and complex as the Department of Homeland Security.”
The agency’s mission areas, Pearl said, require “long term planning, as well as substantial and timely investments in specialized technologies, products, and services. And industry cannot, likewise, strategize, invest, research and develop solutions when the needed programs spit-and-start or experience delays simply because long-range planning is impossible to do.”