WASHINGTON – Ten years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has matured to the point where it has significantly contributed to the nation’s security, said Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Maine.

Testimony at a Committee hearing to evaluate the Department’s record also made clear that the Department has a way to go before it is removed from the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) biennial “high-risk” list, where it has been identified as an agency at high-risk of waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement.

“Some people say that the federal government overreacted in its response to the 9/11 attacks. I don’t agree,” Lieberman said. “In the past decade, we have been spared another catastrophic terrorist attack like the one on 9/11 and that’s not just a matter of luck or coincidence. It’s because of what so many people in government did. Ten years ago, no single agency and no single official were designated to lead the federal government’s efforts to prevent terrorism or to adequately marshal the resources of the federal government to respond to catastrophic disasters.  Today there is clarity on who is in charge, and that makes a tremendous difference in the security of the country.”

Collins said: “As has been noted often, the terrorists only have to get it right once; DHS and its partners have to be right every time or we will suffer the consequences of an attack. We are much safer than we were on 9/10/01, but we must be tenacious in anticipating the changing tactics of terrorists.  As the successful decade-long search for Osama bin Laden proved, America’s resolve is a powerful weapon against those who seek to destroy our way of life.” 

The GAO released a new report at the hearing evaluating DHS’s track record since it launched operations in 2003.  The report concluded that overall DHS is a more effective agency than it once was and has created a foundation on which to continue to mature and reach its full potential.

Among DHS’ most prominent successes are the physical screening of airplane passengers and cargo at airports and the pre-screening of airline passengers and cargo bound for the U.S.; information sharing among federal, state, and local officials; and a Federal Emergency Management Agency more capable of responding to catastrophic disasters.

The Department is better integrated than ever before, having melded 200,000 employees and dozens of agencies with different cultures and management policies together under one banner. But the Department’s internal operations – such as its procurement process, financial management, and performance measurement –must be held to a higher standard. Also, the Department’s efforts to develop new security technologies have fallen short.

Witnesses at the hearing were Jane Holl Lute, Deputy Secretary at DHS; Eugene Dodaro, Comptroller General of the United States and head of GAO; and Cathleen Berrick, Director of Homeland Security and Justice Issues at GAO.