More than a decade after it was established, the Department of Homeland Security still faces major challenges in its mission to protect the homeland, including poor coordination in responding to cyber security attacks and weaknesses in airport security, federal auditors said Monday.
In its annual report on DHS, the agency’s inspector general said the department is still struggling to smoothly integrate its 22 separate components into a “single, cohesive organization capable of fulfilling a broad, vital, and complex mission.’’
DHS was created in response to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, in part to eliminate gaps in coordination and poor communication that had helped make possible the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
But even today, the report said, DHS components – which include major agencies such as the Secret Service, Coast Guard and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement – “often operate independently and do not unify their efforts, cooperate, or share information.’’
DHS’s Washington-based headquarters sometimes contributes to the lack of information sharing by not following up on guidance it issues to the department’s components, the report said.
In a response included with the report, DHS acknowledged the challenges, but said it is making major progress in addressing them through programs such as DHS secretary Jeh Johnson’s Unity of Effort initiative, which is trying to make the department operate in a more coherent, transparent fashion.
“It is important to note that DHS missions are complex and highly diverse, necessitating sustained management attention to succeed,’’ wrote Jim H. Crumpacker, director of DHS’s inspector general liaison office.
Among the DHS agencies faulted by the inspector general was the Transportation Security Administration.
“TSA needs to improve the performance of its baggage and passenger screening workforce,’’ the auditors wrote, adding that covert testing at U.S. airports had “identified human- and technology-based failures that led to vulnerabilities in screening.’’
DHS’s critical role in defending against cyber attacks also came in for criticism. The department’s National Protection and Programs Directorate, which leads the anti-cyber effort, “continued to face challenges sharing and integrating cyber threat information among five Federal cyber operations centers and collaborating with them to respond to cybersecurity incidents,’’ according to the inspector general.
The report also said that the government will continue “to be challenged in sharing cyber incident information and coordinating an effective response” without a better and more standardized way to report cybersecurity incidents.