Ten Years Later—Ten Challenges Facing the Department of Homeland Security

 1. DHS has spent more than $35 billion on homeland security grants, but cannot measure whether we are safer from terrorist attacks.  The December 2012 report, Safety at Any Price, found that DHS has struggled to assess and measure risk, and that many grant dollars instead subsidize state and local public safety.

 2. Mission creep has expanded DHS from its original focus on counter-terrorism to become an “all-hazards” preparedness agency.  In an era of a $17 trillion national debt, high unemployment and unsustainable spending, DHS cannot afford to continue to expand its mission, particularly when it’s unclear that the agency’s original mission is being executed. Recent years have seen the department provide local police with equipment to protect the Keene Pumpkin Festival in New Hampshire, sno-cone machines in Michigan and drones in Seattle.

 3. Key aspects of DHS’s intelligence mission are failing to provide value to the federal government.  A bipartisan investigation into DHS’s fusion center program with Sen. Carl Levin found that, despite spending as much as $1.4 billion, state and local fusion centers were providing little value for the federal government’s counter terrorism mission.

4. Despite spending as much as $90 billion on border security initiatives over the past decade, the border remains unsecure.  The Council on Foreign Relations reported that the “apprehension rate along the southwest land border between the ports of entry is likely in the range of 40 to 55 percent.” 

5. Despite DHS’s growing responsibilities for cyber security, the Department is struggling to fulfill its cyber and information technology missions, including securing its own networks.  The DHS Inspector General reported to me that DHS has not addressed nearly four dozen recommendations for bringing the Department’s cyber security up to required standards.  A new report from the Office of Inspector General found that DHS’s “inadequate continuity and contingency planning increases the risk that the Department may not be able to respond effectively in case of an emergency or disaster.”

6. A growing share of DHS’s budget is being spent on natural disasters, but FEMA’s process for declaring disasters is outdated and arbitrary.   The federal government is declaring roughly four times as many disasters each year than we were decades ago.  The statistical formula DHS uses to determine when to declare a disaster is unfair and has not been properly updated in nearly 30 years – giving an advantage to states with fewer people. GAO, FEMA administrator Craig Fugate, and former DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano have all called for the formula to be reworked.  Last Congress the Senate voted on a Coburn amendment to fix the formula by assuring funds only went to states truly overwhelmed by a disaster, which received bipartisan support.

7. Despite spending $2.8 billion to secure our ports – a key component of critical infrastructure – DHS has failed to establish clear metrics for assessing and measuring our progress on port security.  Significant challenges remain to ensure adequate screening of cargo and secure access at port facilities.

8. Despite its broad mandate to protect critical infrastructure, DHS has struggled when given a mandate to regulate chemical facility security.  Since 2007, despite spending nearly half of a billion dollars, it is not clear the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) program has improved security at chemical facilities.  To date, only five percent of all covered facilities have approved security plans and no facility has undergone a compliance inspection – more than five years after the program was to be up and running.

9. DHS struggles to manage its acquisitions effectively and efficiently.  Underneath most of DHS’ core missions lie contracts used to purchase equipment, information technology, and support services. While DHS has made progress in establishing a policy to guide acquisition management, too often we hear about poorly managed programs that fail to deliver needed capabilities to DHS’s front lines on time and on budget.  Today, the DHS Inspector General released a report that found $28 million of radio equipment collecting dust on a shelf while operators in the field faced equipment shortages.  Last year, GAO found that 16 of DHS major programs experienced cost growth of 166 percent from $19.7 billion to $52.2 billion because of DHS’ failure to provide effective management and oversight.  

10. DHS continues to struggle to coordinate and manage its component agencies.  Despite the effort to create “One DHS,” DHS continues to struggle to manage and coordinate its component agencies.