Congress on Friday delved yet again into the operational and organizational challenges that continue to hobble the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the massive organization created nearly 13 years ago when 22 separate agencies were cobbled together.
The House Homeland Security Committee’s subcommittee on Oversight and Management Efficiencyweighed whether DHS can fix management and other issues using industry recommendations and private sector best practices.
While employee morale within DHS dominated the discussion, lawmakers said the department’s information technology represents an issue DHS should also address.
“DHS…struggles to streamline its information technology programs, modernize its financial systems, and consolidate its real property inventory, which result in a significant inability to cut waste,” Subcommittee Chairman Scott Perry (R-Pa.) said.
The department doesn’t have one centralized system that provides an individual’s complete immigration history, said Marc Pearl, president and chief executive at the Homeland Security and Defense Business Council.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service “experience challenges around the collection, coordination and use of immigration data,” Pearl said. “We suggest that DHS look more vigorously at other opportunities for consolidating systems that could service enterprise-wide mission areas, which could create cost savings and reduce duplicative efforts.”
Rep. Norma Torres (D-Calif.) suggested the agency is struggling with its IT infrastructure and asked what DHS can do to ensure that its workforce is properly trained and “ready to support the department’s new IT broker model.”
DHS could hire younger workers to supplement its existing workforce, said Elaine Duke, former DHS undersecretary for management.
While its current IT workers understand the agency’s legacy IT systems, DHS’s younger workers would be a valuable addition to the workforce because of their cyber security skills and familiarity with new developments in IT, she said.
“I think that the blended workforce – the old and new – brings the best of both, understanding the specific nuances of operating an IT system in the Federal sector with bringing in the new best practices for cyber protection, for agile-type deployment of IT upgrades,” Duke said.