Value of Terrorism Prevention Centers Remains Unproven

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – More than seven years after Congress required the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to set up a network of state and local fusion centers to combat international and homegrown terrorist threats,  the Department has failed both to measure their performance or whether they are working, or to track the millions of dollars they receive in federal grants, according to a new report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

Fusion centers are locally-run, multi-agency organizations to facilitate the sharing of information and intelligence to prevent terrorist attacks and crime in the United States. Today, DHS formally recognizes 78 fusion centers throughout the U.S. and its territories.

According to GAO, DHS has made progress in implementing an assessment of fusion center capabilities. In 2013, fusion centers gave themselves As, however, according to the report, these self-awarded grades say little about whether the fusion centers are actually contributing to DHS’ homeland security mission. The report found that DHS has developed 11 performance measures related to the achievement of its homeland security mission, but DHS has not yet tried to measure 10 out of these 11 metrics, and has not collected the information it needs to do so. In addition, GAO found that DHS was unable to produce reliable data on the amount of taxpayer money it provides through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) preparedness grant program to fusion centers. While FEMA initially identified $124 million in funding for fusion centers in 2012, GAO found that many of the projects identified as being related to fusion centers were incorrectly categorized.

“I am concerned that this report finds similar problems to those that were discovered following a bipartisan investigation into the effectiveness of fusion centers from two years ago,” Dr. Coburn said. “The fact that after seven years, we still cannot tell whether fusion centers are keeping us any safer means that DHS needs to take a long, hard look at whether it needs to stop funding projects that don’t advance its mission”

In 2012, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI) investigation evaluated more than a year’s worth of reporting originating from fusion centers, and could not identify any reports that uncovered a terrorist threat, nor any contributions made by a fusion center to disrupt an active terrorist plot. It also uncovered numerous examples of wasteful spending of federal grant funds by fusion centers. States used the aid to buy flat screen TVs, SUVs, hidden “shirt button” cameras, cell phone tracking devices, and other questionable surveillance equipment, the investigation found. “Following the PSI report, DHS and FEMA assured us that they were implementing changes to improve their oversight of taxpayer money for fusion centers, yet GAO confirms that there has been little if any improvement,” Dr. Coburn added.