That’s according to lawmakers on the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, after they heard testimony from witnesses expressing concern about the structure of the department, which is made up of 22 different agencies.
“But the Department still has a way to go to fully realize the vision that we set for it in the Homeland Security Act,” said Chairman Joseph Lieberman, ID-Conn at the hearing.
“Its operational components are still not adequately integrated with the department’s headquarter offices and with each other, leading to suboptimal use of the department’s resources,” he continued.
Admiral Thad Allen was a key witness on the panel and stressed that the quick birth of the Department forced it to grow too much too fast.
“The time period between enactment of the legislation until the department was formed, there was a little over three months,” Allen said. “While this could be considered government at light speed, little time was available for deliberate planning and thoughtful consideration of available alternatives.”
At the time of the formation of the department, Allen was the Coast Guard chief of staff. He was challenged with the task of moving the Coast Guard into the vast new agency from its former home within the Department of Transportation.
Allen’s biggest concern 10 years ago, and still today, is the lack of planning within the support functions of the department.
Support functions, like accounting and human resources for the Department of Homeland Security, remain in the hands of the individual agencies. Funding for these functions then comes from the agencies and not from the Department of Homeland Security, Allen said.
That means there is no one person or committee within the department that handles all off the staff.
Allen described the differences in the appropriation structure of the components, or agencies, from legacy departments, or those departments that existed before the creation of the department.
“There is a lack of uniformity, comparability and transparency in budget presentations across the department,” he said.
By that, he means you can’t tell where money is going. It’s not easy to see if the money is being used to pay for the cost of employees or operational cost or investments in technology.
The Homeland Security Act required a five-year Future Years Homeland Security Plan outlining a planning, programming and budget framework. But this plan has never been effectively implemented, Allen said in his prepared testimony.
Allen also talked about an issue that witness, former California Democratic representative, Jane Harman made note of in her testimony; redefining our borders.
“As with ‘borders’ we must challenge our existing paradigm regarding ‘case-based’ investigative activities… It takes a network to defeat a network,” Harman said. Utilizing the advances in technology is key to building a strong information-sharing network, she said.
Information sharing and connecting the dots is something the Department hasn’t gotten right, said Harman, the former chairwoman of the House intelligence committee.
“First, the intel function has never fully developed. Part of the reason is that President George W. Bush stood up the Terrorist Threat Integration Center – now the National Counterterrorism Center – that put the mission of fusing intelligence outside of the Department,” she said.
State fusion centers sprung up across the country as part of the Homeland Security Act. Harman said law enforcement agencies report that even though these centers are a part of DHS, the centers provide better, timelier information than DHS itself.
“Intelligence reports are meant to be consumed by state and local law enforcement, but many of those entities consider DHS ‘spam’, cluttering inboxes,” Harman said.
Harman said that good information is flowing from ports of entry via Suspicious Activity Reports. But when asked whether this information can be packaged in a way that is helpful for state and local law enforcement, she said, “At this point in time, the answer is no.’’
Admiral Allen and Harman agreed the federal government’s role and responsibilities within the department must be clearly defined.
“Congress has shortchanged the department,” by having so many congressional committees with oversight of it Harman said. “By failing to reorganize its committee structure, the homeland jurisdiction remains anemic. So the Department still has to answer to more than 80 committees and subcommittees.”
Harman stressed that Congress still hasn’t made a “single, principal point of oversight and review for homeland security issues and problems.”
Allen suggested that there be a law defining the government’s role in the Department and that better outlines the oversight of the Department.
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