Friday, December 30, 2005

Homeland Security poorly managed

Yahoo! News
Homeland Security poorly managed: audit

Nearly three years after President George W. Bush created the Department of Homeland Security after the September 11 attacks, the sprawling agency still faces management problems that were partly to blame for the poor response to Hurricane Katrina, an internal audit showed.

In a report issued on Wednesday, the inspector general outlined a series of problems with the agency that was created in early 2003 in the largest reorganization of the federal government in 50 years.

Inspector General Robert Skinner said Hurricanes Katrina in August and Rita, a month later, exposed weaknesses in the Federal Emergency Management Agency's information systems and its management of contracts and grants.

"When one considers that FEMA's programs are largely administered through grants and contracts, the circumstances created by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita provides an unprecedented opportunity for fraud, waste, and abuse," the report said.

It said while Homeland Security was taking steps to manage spending for Katrina, the size of the response and recovery efforts created "an unprecedented need for oversight."

The hurricanes highlighted problems at the top at FEMA. Its former director, Michael Brown, initially praised by Bush for doing "a heckuva job" quit amid a hail of criticism over his agency's slow response to Katrina.

Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the senior Democrat on the House Committee on Homeland Security, urged department leaders to fix problems identified in the report.

"Poor leadership at the department and findings of fraud, waste and abuse at FEMA tell me that our local communities are still being left in the dark," said Thompson, whose state was hit hard by Hurricane Katrina.

In a response attached to the audit, Homeland Security officials said the department had formed a task force to ensure financial controls were in place in the recovery effort.

Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke said reorganization at FEMA was one of the department's top priorities.

"The American public will be hearing from us in short order about how we intend to build the capability of FEMA into a 21st century agency with 21st century capabilities ... and restore the agency's core focus on response and recovery missions," he said on Thursday.

Knocke said the department would detail the changes early next year. Some changes to FEMA could include state-of-the-art communications equipment and improved capabilities to track emergency supplies -- like through bar codes -- in order to better distribute goods in an emergency.

As part of an effort to have FEMA focus mainly on response and recovery, the department has also created a new preparedness directorate that will be responsible for consolidating all preparedness functions, Knocke said.

The creation of Homeland Security merged all or parts of 22 different agencies. The audit said the department had made progress toward building a single and efficient organization.

"However much remains to be done," the report said. Some top challenges include securing U.S. borders, including developing an automated entry-exit system and identifying and deporting illegal immigrants.

The department's Transportation Security Agency needed to improve training, supervision and technology for airport security screeners, it said.

(additional reporting by Deborah Charles)