DHS Report Card 2007 the State Term Paper

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DHS Report Card 2007

The State of Homeland Security 2007: Report Card

How secure is the United States against terrorism? How safe should Americans feel when it comes to the sanctity and security of their homeland? The first question is difficult to answer precisely, but given the Congressional and government oversight reports that point out the flaws and failures of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), it would seem the U.S. is not as secure as it should be. The answer to the second question will be presented at the conclusion of this paper. The thesis of this paper is that the executive branch of the federal government has not done an adequate job of running the DHS, and Congress is now doing what it should have been doing more of all along - fiscal and management oversight. The focus of this paper will be on the Science and Technology division of the DHS.

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Following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, there was an urgent need to improve the nation's ability to secure its borders. And despite the Bush Administration's initial objections, the Department of Homeland Security was established. How is the DHS doing these days? A recent "Report Card" on "The State of Homeland Security" - prepared by the Majority Staff of the House Committee on Homeland Security - indicates that there is much work needed in order to bring the DHS up to the standards and Congress and the American taxpayers clearly expect from it. Indeed, the report card gives DHS a C+ for it's current Science & Technology (S&T) competencies.

Term Paper on DHS Report Card 2007 the State of Assignment

To begin with, the 2007 report card offers (in its "Executive Summary") the opinion that there are "...troubling signs that the Department's leadership is critically challenged with regard to executing the basics of strategic planning and organization planning, financial management, integration and coordination" (p. 1). Most of the grades given to various departments are "C" with a couple "B" grades; two "incomplete" grades and embarrassingly, under "Employee Morale" the grade given the DHS is "F." That is a red flag warning for any investigation of agency effectiveness; if employees are as to the specific DHS area of concern for this paper, Science & Technology, the congressional report card sets the stage for the 2007 report by reviewing the S&T's poor condition that existed in 2006. The report card quotes from a Washington Post article (Hsu Aug. 20, 2006) that the S&T was "hobbled by poor leadership, weak financial management and inadequate technology" (Hsu 2006). Given the vital importance to America's security, the first paragraph in the S&T section outlines needs to be addressed, including the "systemic deficiencies in financial and accounting controls" along with the "poor response to the needs of customers." In general, the 2007 said that historically the problems with DHS's S&T department are many and Congress and the public have "lost confidence in the ability of the S&T Directorate to fulfill its statutory responsibilities."

That having been said, the 2007 report card offers some praise to Under Secretary Cohen, who took over in August 2006 and has attempted to make "...a change in organizational culture." Cohen has apparently instilled growing levels of confidence in Congress by adopting a new model ("Integrated Project Teams") which focuses its efforts towards satisfying (1) customers (U.S. Customs, Border Patrol, Transportation Security Administration, U.S. Immigration, et al.) and (2) end-users (first responders and other officials and professionals who need DHS technology for security in the field; also called "boots on the group" personnel). Will this "innovative model" work? "Time will tell if the "Integrated Project Teams" will be effective.

One lingering question, the report card explains, is whether or not the S&T Directorate's staff can "adequately manage and monitor research and development projects" and the contracts and sub-contracts that result from those technological advances. At the present time, the report card states, the S&T division has not shown that it is capable of producing the technological advances necessary to detect potential threats. The Bush budget calls for $799 million for the S&T Directorate for 2008, which is down by $49 million for fiscal year 2007. One of the cuts made that stands out as potentially dangerous is the budget for Cybersecurity research, which is down to $14.8 million from $22.7 million in 2007. One has to wonder, if the job wasn't getting done sufficiently with $22.7 million, how will it be fixed with a budget of $14.8 million?

In assessing a Congressional report that seriously, critically takes an agency to task, a good practice is to look beyond the report, and look deeper into the agency being critiqued. Indeed, upon deeper review, one of the problems that has faced DHS - and consequently affects the S&T sector - is the lack of quality people at leadership positions. Journalist Spencer S. Hsu of the Washington Post, an investigative reporter who's article about DHS shortcomings in 2006 helped prompt Congress to investigate the DHS, published a piece in July 2007 asserting that "Homeland Security had 138 vacancies among its top 575 positions."

And beyond the vacancies at top positions, the DHS has another problem - which is "the over politicization of the top rank of Department management," according to Representative Bennie G. Thompson, who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, and is quoted by Hsu in the article. There is not only a gap in leadership because of these vacancies, but there is a corresponding falling off of morale, according to Representative Thomas Davis III, the ranking Republican on the House oversight and Government Reform Committee. His viewpoint in the Hsu article reflects that "lower morale" has resulted from the vacancies at the top of the DHS. Indeed, among 36 federal agencies surveyed by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) in January 2007, the DHS employees "reported the lowest job satisfaction," Hsu continues.

And so you have one of the most vital federal government agencies - the DHS - as the place where job satisfaction is the lowest of all federal agencies. That is a siren in the night, a shot over the starboard bow, a red flag if there ever was one. Meantime, another problem plaguing the DHS is the number of political appointees. There was great hue and cry in the aftermath of the federal government's total failure during Hurricane Katrina, and much of that criticism was leveled at a political appointee, Michael Brown, who clearly was not qualified to have been placed in a position of such importance.

An ABC News report in June of 2007 (Rood, 2007) claims that the DHS has earned a reputation as "a political dumping ground, a sort of Land of Misfit Toys" because of its large number of political appointees. The ABC News article relates data from a Washington "insider magazine" (National Journal) that indicates the DHS has "more than 350...White-House-appointed staffers," compared with only 64 Bush political appointees in the Department of Veterans Affairs, "which boasts 50,000 more career employees than DHS." How does one qualify for a political appointment with DHS? The "primary attributes for employment" in the "upper echelons" of the DHS, the article states, are "GOP fundraisers...sent to pad their resumes or cool their heels." Also, it helps to have "personal connections and political fealty" with the GOP and with the Bush Administration, the article asserts.

One of the problems with political appointees - besides their lack of qualifications, such as the situation with Michael Brown - is that there is a "high turnover" rate because "top officials are in demand in a private sector willing to pay lucrative salaries" (Hsu 2007). In other words, a GOP fundraiser from Kansas or Nebraska is rewarded for his or her good work by getting an appointment to the DHS, an appointment that doesn't require Senate confirmation or Congressional oversight. The appointee works for a year or two, and then is tempted by offers of salary enhancements that dwarf what he or she is making in DHS - and leaves the position.

It is relevant to point out that overall the Bush Administration - in its first five years -- has "sharply increased the number of political appointments" (U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform May 2006). The number of "Schedule C" political appointees (hired without Congressional approval) has increased from 1,229 in 2000 to 1,640 in 2005 - an increase of 33%, according to the Congressional documents.

Meanwhile, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), in June 2007 - in the Science and Technology Directorate's Expenditure Plan report - was alluded to in the report card for 2007. The GAO's report stated that the S&T fiscal year 2007 expenditure plan "...did not fully satisfy the conditions set forth in the Appropriations Act." Moreover the conditions set out by the Appropriations legislation that required management and administration data to be broken out in their reports "were not provided" and hence the legislative demands for accountability have not been met.

The reaction of an objective reader when encountering these instances of incomplete… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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