GAO faults agencies for lack of coordination on interoperability

According to a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released on December 12, DHS, DOJ, and the Treasury Department are no longer coordinating with each other to develop a nationwide federal wireless communications service for use by first responders.  The report, requested by Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman (ID-CT)  and Ranking Member Susan Collins (R-ME), found the different departments are now working on individual interoperability projects rather than implementing the Integrated Wireless Network (IWN) program.

GAO report criticizes DHS procurement

From USA Today:

A GAO report scheduled for release today says DHS has done a poor job overseeing the purchase of billions of dollars of equipment and technology since the agency was created five years ago.  Senior department officials have “not provided the oversight needed” to ensure that purchases “with important national security objectives” function properly and stay on budget.   The GAO said the main problem is that the department did not follow its own procedures, and blamed oversight problems on insufficient Homeland Security staff and limited attention paid by senior department officials.

Although previous audits have documented problems with individual programs, the GAO report is the first to review Homeland Security’s overall system of buying and maintaining $60 billion of new equipment and technology.

Rep. David Price (D-N.C.), head of the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees Homeland Security spending, said the department’s purchasing system needs an overhaul to protect billions in taxpayer funds.

Homeland Security spokesman Larry Orluskie referred a reporter to a statement attached to the GAO report that said many improvements have been made, including the creation of two oversight divisions. He added that other improvements will be made in the next two years.

GAO outlines 13 critical HS priorities for Obama administration

Defense readiness and spending; food safety; preparing for large-scale health emergencies; and homeland security are among a list of 13 “urgent issues” the Government Accountability Office (GAO) “has identified as among those needing the attention of President-elect [Barack] Obama and the 111th Congress during the transition and the first year of the new administration and Congress,” Acting Comptroller General, Gene Dodaro, said Thursday.

UPDATE 11/17: View the GAO’s full recommendations for DHS and all other agencies on the GAO transition web site

GAO report on NAO disputes Chertoff claims of compliance

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has released its full public report on the status of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) National Applications Office (NAO) compliance with current legal, privacy and civil liberties standards.

On April 9, 2008, in a letter to Members of Congress, DHS secretary Michael Chertoff certified that the NAO complies with all existing laws, including all applicable privacy and civil liberties standards. The Secretary also provided a charter for the office, privacy and civil liberties impact assessments, and NAO standard operating procedures.

The GAO report disputes that claim of full compliance.

BioSafety Labs fail GAO perimeter security tests

From HSToday:

Three out of five of the nation’s top biosafety laboratories have poor perimeter security measures, prompting congressional investigators to recommend that the CDC, which regulates the labs, review their security and consider upgrades.

The GAO conducted the review for the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and published the results Thursday in a report titled “Biosafety Laboratories: Perimeter Security Assessment of the Nation’s Five BSL-4 Laboratories.” GAO .  The BSL 4 labs are the only ones authorized by the federal government to work with biological agents–such as the Ebola virus, hemorrhagic fevers, and smallpox–that could kill people but have no cure or treatment.

GAO: HSIN Nextgen needs more acquisition controls

From HSToday:

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is well on its way to upgrading the Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN) which shares threat information with state and local authorities, but the department could benefit from increased management of the purchase of the next generation system, according to a report from the GAO published Wednesday.

DHS could benefit from increasing staffing in the HSIN program office, outlining staff responsibilities, and identifying requirements and risks adequately.

A memo from the DHS undersecretary of management last year revealed DHS operates more than 100 Web-based systems, many of which simply duplicate each other’s capabilities. In consolidating these systems, DHS also plans to replace legacy portal technologies that inhibit information sharing. As such, HSIN NextGen will serve a number of communities within DHS, including emergency management, intelligence, immigration, and law enforcement.

The Office of Operations Coordination and Planning responded to the GAO report, detailing actions it has taken to meet the report’s recommendations.

President signs bill turning military spy satellites on U.S.

An appropriations bill signed by President Bush last week allows the controversial National Applications Office (NAO) to begin operating a stringently limited version of a program which would turn military spy satellites on the United States, sharing imagery with other federal, state, and local government agencies.

Both Congress and the GAO have expressed concern that the practice may be in violation of some laws and may be used for spying on U.S. Citizens.