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  4. GAO High-Risk Management

GAO High-Risk Management

In 2003, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) designated “Implementing and Transforming DHS” as high-risk, due to the significant challenges associated with integrating 22 agencies, all with different cultures, systems, processes, and existing management challenges.  GAO’s prior work on mergers and acquisitions, undertaken before the creation of DHS, found that successful transformations of large organizations (even those faced with less strenuous reorganizations) can take years to achieve. 

In 2010, GAO identified 31 Outcomes (subsequently reduced to 30) that DHS must satisfy in order to address its underlying management challenges and be removed from the High-Risk List. These outcomes were grouped into five functional areas:

  • Information Technology Management,
  • Financial Management
  • Human Capital Management
  • Acquisition Management
  • Management Integration

In 2011, DHS published its first semi-annual “Integrated Strategy for High-Risk Management” (Integrated Strategy), consisting of (1) detailed corrective action plans containing goals and metrics that correlate directly to GAO’s Outcomes, and (2) describing desired end-states of maturation for the DHS management functions.  To ensure adequate oversight, a department-level Chief Executive Officer (e.g., Chief Financial Officer, Chief Information Officer, etc.) was identified to monitor progress, manage risk and implement mitigation plans for each outcome.  In addition, the Under Secretary for Management conducts regular leadership meetings with the Chief Executive Officers to monitor progress on key initiatives and high-risk issues. 

In 2013, GAO narrowed the scope of this high-risk issue area and changed the name to “Strengthening DHS Management Functions,” reporting that DHS had “made considerable progress in transforming its original component agencies into a single cabinet-level department and positioning itself to achieve its full potential.”

In 2023, GAO further narrowed the scope of this issue area and changed the name to “Strengthening DHS Information Technology and Financial Management Functions.”  GAO considered the outcomes in the Acquisition Management and Human Capital Management functional areas to be fully addressed.  Today, eight outcomes remain open (one each in Information Technology Management and Management Integration, and six in Financial Management).  Several of the remaining outcomes are dependent on the implementation of modernized financial and business systems, a multi-year effort.

GAO has remarked favorably on the Department’s demonstrated substantial progress to fully address its management challenges, especially as regards DHS’s top leaders continuing commitment and support.  Moving forward, DHS will continue to build on this progress by fully implementing the Integrated Strategy and ultimately work with GAO to remove the Department from the High-Risk List.

Last Updated: 10/18/2023
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