Tuesday, November 28, 2006

GAO: Homeland Security Issues for Congressional Oversight

The GAO issued a report for the upcoming 110th Congress on issues that the GAO thinks will require Congressional attention. Not surprisingly, many issues deal with homeland security. They include:

Ensure the Effective Integration and Transformation of the Department of Homeland Security:

After its creation in 2003, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had to transform 22 agencies—several with major management challenges—into one department. ... The areas GAO identified as at risk include planning and priority setting; accountability and oversight; and a broad array of management, programmatic, and partnering challenges.
Enhance Information Sharing, Accelerate Transformation, and Improve Oversight Related to the Nation’s Intelligence Agencies:
Since September 11, 2001, the nation has made some progress in fixing a major vulnerability—intelligence and law enforcement agencies’ failure to “connect the dots” and share information on the terrorists. ... But progress has been slow in some key areas, including implementing the policies needed to govern information sharing. ... Without continued congressional oversight of these issues, the progress and results of the many requirements and initiatives will remain unclear.
Enhance Border Security and Enforcement of Existing Immigration Laws:
[S]uccessful implementation of these steps has often been hampered by inadequate planning and guidance, misaligned priorities and resources, and outdated information technology systems. Additional congressional oversight can help ensure that travel document, border security, and immigration enforcement initiatives are yielding improved national and economic security for our nation’s citizens.
Strengthen Efforts to Prevent the Proliferation of Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological Weapons and Their Delivery Systems (Missiles):
Additional congressional oversight can help assess the effectiveness of these activities and how U.S. resources might be better planned and managed to achieve nonproliferation goals.
Ensure the Effectiveness and Coordination of U.S. International Counterterrorism Efforts:
[T]he Congress has an important role to play in overseeing the implementation of these [9/11 Commission] recommendations and in assessing the effectiveness and coordination of U.S. diplomatic, military, intelligence, and law enforcement efforts to combat terrorism abroad.
Ensure a Strategic and Integrated Approach to Prepare for, Respond to, Recover, and Rebuild from Catastrophic Events. (Notably, the GAO emphasizes risk management as a guiding principle for dealing with catastrophic events):
Recent events—notably Hurricane Katrina and the threat of an influenza pandemic—have illustrated the importance of ensuring a strategic and integrated approach to catastrophic disaster management. ... Managing risk is also a key component of GAO’s model for managing risk provides a tool to assist the Congress, Department of Homeland Security, and other key players in preparing for and responding to such events.

Key Topics Needing Congressional Oversight
  • Ensure that leadership, roles, responsibilities, and authorities are clear, well communicated, and understood and the capacity of the nation to prepare for, respond to, and recover/rebuild from catastrophic events is effectively assessed and exercised.
  • Determine the extent to which relevant federal and state organizations consider risk-based factors when making management and resource decisions relating to catastrophic events.
  • Identify and track the types and amount of federal assistance provided for addressing catastrophic events and develop metrics to inform congressional oversight.
  • Examine the availability of private insurance for catastrophes and identify ways that the National Flood Insurance Program can improve the sufficiency of its financial resources and funding mechanism, mitigate repetitive losses, increase compliance with mandatory purchase requirements, and expedite the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s flood map modernization efforts.
A lot of these issues seriously affect state and local homeland security. It will be interesting to see how new leadership in Congress tackles these issues, and what differences emerge from the approaches taken since 9/11.

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