The Department of Homeland Security’s internal watchdog is struggling with a range of “long-standing management and operational challenges” ranging from frequent leadership turnover and a lack of strategic planning to inadequate quality assurance and taking too long to complete reports, says another auditing agency, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which reports to Congress.
“Our review has identified…a wide range of challenges at the Office of Inspector General,” Chris Currie, director of Homeland Security and Justice at GAO, told the House Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday. “To be clear, these challenges are long-standing, and span multiple leaders and multiple administrations. As a result, blame rests with no one person but on years of inconsistent and poor management discipline and practices in our view.”
Currie presented a draft of the GAO’s findings made over a five-year period, which include 21 recommendations, which he told Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.) are the “building blocks” to fixing the management issues at the DHS Office of the IG (OIG).
The final report will be issued once the IG’s office completes its responses to the GAO.
The draft report elicited bipartisan concern about the problems at the IG’s office.
“I have to say, after reading many GAO reports over the years, this one is very disturbing,” Katko said. “I don’t think that I have ever seen a GAO report that pinpoints so many weaknesses within an agency or department.”
Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said that “Overall, GAO noted that while the OIG has taken steps to address some of the problems identified in the report, its efforts are incomplete or have only recently been initiated. GAO’s draft report makes clear the OIG must transform its management and operations.”
One of the areas of concern highlighted by Currie is that internal and external reviews of quality assurance in the work of the OIG shows that some reports may “not have adhered to the professional standards” expected, leading to 13 reports being retracted over five years.
Dr. Joseph Cuffari, the DHS IG since August 2019, told the committee that in fiscal year 2020, the morale within the OIG hit a five-year high, according to a federal survey, and communicates at least once weekly with all staff. He also pointed to improved peer reviews in the past year.
The OIG also contracted in 2020 with the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) to help in the development of a five-year strategic plan, which Cuffari said is due by the end of this summer. He added that his office has exercised an option year on the NAPA contract for help in implementing the strategic plan.
The problems in the OIG “can’t be fixed overnight,” Cuffari cautioned.
Thompson, with Katko in agreement, said the committee plans to hold another hearing on the OIG’s challenges and improvement plans once the GAO’s reporting is complete.