Unlike most other federal agencies, the Department of Homeland Security has thrown up walls of bureaucracy in front of auditors, causing long delays in access to information necessary to oversee the department, the Government Accountability Office said this week.
Norman Rabkin, managing director of GAO’s Homeland Security and Justice Team, testified (PDF) Tuesday before the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Management, Investigations, and Oversight that DHS has set up an overly bureaucratic process which “involves multiple layers of review by department- and component-level liaisons and attorneys” through which all its requests for information are routed.
“At most federal agencies and in some cases within DHS, we obtain the information we need directly from program officials, often on the spot or very soon after making the request,” he said. For instance, when receipt of $950 million of funding for the Secure Border Initiative depended on GAO signing off on the work, the department “provided us office space at CBP headquarters, gave us access to all levels of SBInet management, and promptly provided us with all the documentation we requested, much of which was still in draft form and predecisional.”
Most of the time, DHS is not nearly so forthcoming.
“In contrast to the access we were afforded in the above example, the process used in most of our interactions with DHS is layered and time-consuming. . . . The result is that we often wait for months for information that in many cases could be provided immediately. In some cases, DHS does not furnish information until our review is nearly finished, greatly impeding our ability to provide a full and timely perspective on the program under review.”
Under Secretary for Management Paul A. Schneider also testified at the hearing, defending DHS’ bureacratic obstacles as necessary and its information exchange with GAO as “open, free-flowing,” assertions that GAO strongly disagreed with, citing numerous examples of inappropriate delays and redactions.
Schneider’s prepared testimony is an artful defense of needless bureaucracy as, in his words, “the proper framework” for providing auditors access to what they need. Bring your hip waders, though; it’s all a bunch of crap. GAO’s counterexample of the one time when DHS actually provided a good level of access proves it.
Nick Schwellenbach at the Project on Government Oversight points out that the GAO and DHS inspector general made the same points about access issues in Congressional hearings in February, and noted that DHS’ former general counsel, Philip Perry (who is married to Vice President Dick Cheney’s daughter Elizabeth) may have had much to do with the delays.