USA-T - Report criticizes Homeland Security
Report criticizes Homeland Security
By Thomas Frank, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON — The Homeland Security Department has done a poor job overseeing the purchase of billions of dollars of equipment and technology since the agency was created five years ago, according to a federal report scheduled for release today.
Senior department officials have "not provided the oversight needed" to ensure that purchases "with important national security objectives" function properly and stay on budget, according to Congress' Government Accountability Office (GAO).
The GAO report is the latest to raise questions about the Homeland Security Department, which Congress has criticized for gaps in aviation security, a faltering response to Hurricane Katrina and slow progress in securing land borders.
The new report levels criticism at a complex process Homeland Security has used to beef up the nation's defenses by purchasing security equipment, including machines that scan suitcases for bombs.
In many cases, programs were delayed or went over budget, including planned improvements in Coast Guard rescues, luggage screening and the capture and removal of illegal migrants.
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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.
The main problem is that the department did not follow its own procedures, set up to make sure taxpayer funds are "being spent wisely, efficiently and effectively," the GAO said.
Rep. David Price, D-N.C., head of the subcommittee that oversees Homeland Security
spending, said the department's purchasing system needs an overhaul to protect billions in taxpayer funds.
Major purchases "should not move forward unless they have been thoroughly vetted," Price said in a statement.
The report found that 45 of 48 major acquisitions were not reviewed regularly by a Homeland Security oversight board created to do the reviews. Fourteen of those projects had cost overruns, delays and shortcomings in how they functioned.
Homeland Security spokesman Larry Orluskie referred a reporter to a statement attached to the GAO report written by department acquisitions chief John Hutton. The statement 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.
The GAO blamed oversight problems on insufficient Homeland Security staff and limited attention paid by senior department officials.