The sprawling Department of Homeland Security (DHS), created after 9/11 to keep the country safe from terror attacks, has all too often found itself the target of scathing federal audits that have noted the waste and abuse occurring within its walls and its ranks.
From $1.5 billion in cost overruns on its new D.C. headquarters, to $8.7 million a year in unearned employee overtime, the agency has not lacked for examples of fiscal mismanagement and lax oversight.
Now a new audit from Inspector General John Roth lists the most glaring problems that have plagued an agency that has over 500,000 federal workers and contractors and whose annual operating budget is about $60 billion. Auditors gave 68 specific recommendations for tightening up operations, and Roth said the agency must address the following issues and more to prevent hundreds of millions of tax dollars from being grossly misspent:
Like many of the larger government agencies, DHS has had major acquisitions and money management issues. In the 2014 audit, the IG said the agency did not follow departmental acquisition guidance, which resulted in serious cost overruns, lackluster acquisition performance and projects that went way past deadline.
For example, in 2012, DHS vastly overestimated how many vehicles it would need in its fleet – and ended up spending $36 million on vehicles that were hardly ever used. In another example, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which is part of DHS, spent at least $17 million on a housing project in Ajo, Arizona, including hundreds of thousands of dollars for standard houses while millions were spent on unused mobile homes.
With an acquisition budget of about $18 billion, DHS does not have sufficient oversight of that budget, said Roth.
“The Department’s programs continue to have problems with schedule delays, cost overruns, and delivering promised capabilities,” he said in the report. “Additionally, lack of coordination among components can lead to program redundancy, inefficient use of resources, and security risks to programs.”
Financial Reporting/Grant Oversight
DHS as a whole and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in particular have struggled with administering grants and keeping track of where that money is going.
FEMA has been the subject of a number of IG audits noting the agency’s botched work in doling out emergency relief to victims of Hurricanes Katrina, Isaac and Sandy, along with other disasters around the country.
Just last month, the agency began asking Sandy victims who were improperly awarded money to give it back – two years later. Roth noted that FEMA has improved its grant oversight, but still has work to do.
Employee Accountability and Integrity
Over the last several years, DHS workers pocketed millions of dollars in unearned overtime while supervisors looked the other way.
The scam was so engrained in office culture that some managers were using the unearned overtime fund as a recruitment tool. Taking from the agency’s “candy bowl” increased some DHS employees’ annual income by as much as 24 percent, courtesy of the taxpayer.
The IG also recommended that DHS improve its oversight and management of programs relating to cyber security and insider threats, transportation security, border security and immigration enforcement – or just about every area it handles. The agency agreed to the IG’s recommendations and said that management would implement corrective actions.
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