DHS Management and Performance Challenges Stymie IT Modernization and Benefits

Published: November 16, 2017

Government PerformanceHomeland SecurityDHS

Fifteen years after its creation, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) continues to face major management and performance challenges.

A recent study performed by the DHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) – Major Management and Performance Challenges Facing the Department of Homeland Security – looked at the underlying causes of DHS’s persistent management and performance challenges, which they conclude hamper efforts to accomplish its homeland security mission efficiently and effectively.

Leadership Challenges Hindering DHS Management and Performance

The OIG determined that DHS’s challenges are related to its leadership’s failure to ensure that DHS operates more as a single entity rather than a collection of components and their failure to establish and enforce a strong internal control environment that would enable mission and management success.

Four areas that the OIG identified as challenges to DHS management and performance effectiveness are:

  • Top Leadership and Intra-component Cooperation – Despite efforts like the “One DHS” and the “Unity of Effort” initiatives to establish a centralized DHS authority structure, vacant leadership positions and overlapping missions and operations continue to produce redundancy and inefficiencies. The OIG sees scant evidence of proactive efforts by DHS leadership to view the organization holistically and the lack of central authority hinders overall oversight and management. The current lack of permanent, presidentially-appointed and Senate-confirmed leadership precludes progress.
  • Workforce Development and Management – DHS needs to recruit, hire, develop, and retain a highly skilled workforce efficiently and effectively. This is especially relevant given that components like Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are charged with meeting increases in the number of law enforcement officers mandated in the January 2017 Executive Orders. The OIG found that DHS lacks the staff and automated systems needed to hire personnel as efficiently as possible. Further, DHS has not established a structure or rigorous processes to allow them to determine the necessary staffing levels, to allocate them accordingly, or to align staffing resources with workloads.
  • Lack of Data to Empower “Organizational Learning” – DHS lacks sufficient and reliable program and operational data for proper planning, decision making, and performance management activities which, in turn, prevents their ability to address cross-cutting departmental deficiencies and to develop long-term solutions. Due to this deficiency, the OIG found that most major acquisition programs continue to cost more than expected, take longer to deploy than planned, or deliver less capability than promised. The OIG also noted that DHS’s ability to gather reliable management data is compounded by incongruent data streams, legacy systems, and unsuccessful attempts to transform IT systems.
  • Challenges Transforming IT Systems – DHS is not addressing its IT systems holistically and faces challenges implementing its Enterprise Data Strategy. Systems modernization efforts are plagued with challenges from “outdated legacy systems, cost overruns, security concerns, functionality issues, and a lack of resources and processes to address user needs.” And while DHS has begun efforts to move toward an Enterprise Data Strategy to ensure data standardization, interoperability, and accessibility, finalized implementation plans are still not complete.


Clearly, the leadership and organizational challenges faced by DHS will not be solved overnight and all efforts will require the support of Congress as well as the White House. Unfortunately, fifteen years of history provides ample evidence of the challenges DHS faces in garnering that support.

To be sure, the modernization and effective use of IT and its related data capabilities would help DHS improve in achieving its mission(s), as well as improving overall organizational management, acquisitions and procurement, and internal efficiencies and cohesion. But entrenched legacy IT systems and processes within historically stove-piped organizational cultures present a challenging obstacle to forward progress.

The historical track record would suggest that the leadership and organizational cohesiveness challenges at DHS must be overcome before IT capabilities can be leveraged to their maximum benefit and an Enterprise Data Strategy can live up to its name.