IT systems key to success of homeland department

The GAO report (03-260), released Dec. 24, also found that federal agencies have made progress in addressing their homeland security missions since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and that information sharing between federal agencies has increased. But GAO said federal agencies still face many challenges, such as improving their collaboration with state and local officials and the private sector.

"Our work indicated that the federal government, state and local governments, and certain parts of the private sector are engaging in important projects to improve homeland security, but that a greater emphasis on coordination and collaboration is necessary among some sectors in order to meet long-term goals," GAO said in a Dec. 20 letter to Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., who requested the study.

Twenty-two existing federal agencies and offices will move into the new Homeland Security Department, which also will include an Office of State and Local Coordination and a liaison official for the private sector.

GAO estimated that the full transition to the new department could take five to 10 years, and recommended that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) work with the department to implement the appropriate management systems. "Strong financial and information technology systems will also be critical to the success of [the Homeland Security Department] and other organizations with homeland security missions," the GAO report said.

GAO also said the White House Office of Homeland Security should lead the federal government's efforts to clarify the responsibilities of - and foster collaboration between - the new department, OMB and all other federal agencies with a homeland security role.

"The federal government will need to effectively respond to significant management and coordination challenges if it is to provide this leadership and be successful in preventing and responding to any future acts of terrorism," the report said.

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