DHS counterpunches after jabs from Congress, IG

Homeland Security Department IT leaders took a combination punch this week from overseers on Capitol Hill and the department's inspector general, Richard Skinner, who released critical reports on the department's operations.

Department officials qualified or rejected many of the inspector general's criticisms in a written response to the report, titled Major Management Challenges Facing the Department of Homeland Security.

A department spokesman also rejected the conclusions of the 13 Democratic members of the House Homeland Security Committee, who issued a separate report.

The IG report highlighted shortcomings in DHS' integration of information systems and IT infrastructure security.

The auditors wrote that DHS' senior leadership recently has reviewed the CIO's Transformation Program, which is intended to consolidate networks and data centers across the department, as well as realign help desk and related support services. According to the report, the CIO office lacks the staff to plan and manage the department's IT functions. In addition, the auditors noted that the CIO is not a member of the department's senior management team with authority to manage IT programs and assets across the department.

In response to those criticisms, DHS stated that the CIO does have adequate authority and that the Infrastructure Transformation Office is working to integrate the department's networks and establish a common e-mail system, among other tasks. DHS officials have worked for years to consolidate their e-mail and help desk services, and the department's response to the IG report indicates that those consolidation tasks are not yet complete.

The IG also reported that DHS had made significant progress in making preparations to improve its IT security programs, and that the department is working to certify and accredit its systems as required by the Federal Information Security Management Act.

In response, the department said the CIO recently has completed an inventory of all IT systems in the department. DHS officials have created similar inventories in the past. DHS said the latest inventory would help improve the department's IT security.

The Democratic members of the House Homeland Security Committee weighed in earlier this week with a separate report contrasting the administration's various commitments in the homeland security field with its activities.

The Democrats' report focused on a broad range of DHS activities, including rail, aviation and port security.

In the IT sections of the congressional report, lawmakers condemned DHS' slow progress in improving warning and response time for cyberattacks.

The Democrats blasted the work of the interagency Terrorist Screening Center, citing flaws identified by the Justice Department inspector general. They pointed to the department's failure to achieve information sharing between the Homeland Security Information Network and law enforcement's Joint Regional Information Exchange System and its delay in launching the HSIN-Secret network for information exchange.

DHS' border technology projects came under fire as a separate issue cited by the lawmakers, who cited obsolete and scanty equipment available to border control personnel.

DHS spokesman Russ Knocke rejected the conclusions in the lawmakers' report, saying 'a lot of the comments in the report seem to be taken out of context.

'The report itself falls short in many ways in reflecting the substantial work that has been done to secure America since 9/11,' Knocke continued. 'In information sharing, the office of Intelligence and Analysis routinely shares information with officials around the country. To date, the department has shared more than 1,600 intelligence products with state and local officials.'

Knocke also defended the department's plans for buttressing border technology: 'The secretary has introduced this November the Secure Border Initiative that includes applying advanced technology at the borders, including military proven technologies such as sensors,' as well as unmanned aerial vehicles, surveillance technology and advanced military vehicles, he said.

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