Homeland Security IG puts focus on department's IT woes

The Homeland Security Department faces hurdles in improving its systems, DHS inspector general Clark Kent Ervin said.

'IT remains a major management challenge for the department,' the IG's office said in a summary of the report it released but that omitted detailed descriptions of critical systems problems.

The problems include weak systems security, the need to create a more detailed enterprise architecture, difficulties providing consolidated IT and administrative support to component agencies, and uneven financial management.

'DHS has also struggled to prepare a detailed and accurate listing of its procurements,' the IG noted. 'The data DHS has received to date has come from 22 different sources, does not provide total contract award information and has not been independently validated.'

In the financial arena, the auditors found weaknesses across the department in security management, system access controls, software development, segregation of duties and service continuity. Many agencies' systems lacked capabilities needed to support the department's financial reporting requirements, the report said.

In another financial area, the auditors found that the Customs and Border Protection bureau lacked systems to properly track the amount of underpaid customs duties and overpaid claims for customs duty refunds.

The department estimates that it has a $170 million 'revenue gap' in underpaid duties, but the auditors said they 'identified discrepancies in the data used to establish the compliance rate, for example import data varied depending on the database accessed. Accordingly, the compliance rate may be imprecise.'

The auditors singled out CBP's Automated Commercial System, which accounts for customs refunds, for lacking controls to detect excessive refund claims. CBP uses manual sampling to find improper refund claims. 'As a result, the inherent risk of fraudulent claims or claims made in error is high,' the IG concluded.

The audit cited several significant IT problems that created such high security risks that the auditors omitted details about them in the report:

  • CBP's systems have a previously reported problem related to controls over law enforcement data, first identified by the IG in August 2002, that still has not been fixed. The bureau also has several financial system problems that have remained unresolved since December 2002.

  • The Immigration and Naturalization Service, which was split up among various parts of the Border and Transportation Security Directorate, has four IT problems covered by the Government Information Security Reform Act that it hasn't resolved, even though auditors reported them in November 2002.

  • The Secret Service has four problems in control over law enforcement data that have gone unresolved since October 2002.

  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement, together with CBP, haven't yet forged a memorandum of understanding with the Justice Department to manage the integration of the Automated Biometric Identification System and the FBI's Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System databases'a project in the works for several years. They also haven't established and maintained updated milestones for integrating the databases.

The IG report brought renewed condemnation from Rep. Jim Turner (D-Texas). 'The inspector general has said it, we've said it and outside experts have said it: This administration is not doing all it can to keep America as safe as it needs to be,' the ranking minority member of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security said in a statement.

DHS officials did not have a response to the report at the time of this posting.


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