Holding Homeland Security accountable

US Coast Guard

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has faced significant challenges since its inception 10 years ago. As the third largest federal agency, the DHS is responsible for preventing terrorism, protecting our cyberspace, protecting our borders and many other mission areas. Yet, after 10 years, the department still faces substantial issues that require rigorous congressional oversight.

The House Homeland Security subcommittee on oversight and management efficiency that I chair has taken numerous actions to keep the department accountable to the American taxpayer. 

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Since February 2013, our subcommittee has held 10 oversight hearings, sent the DHS more than 20 oversight letters, and requested our congressional watchdogs initiate over a dozen investigations. Some of the subcommittee’s investigations include:

Examining misconduct in the Transportation Security Administration. Based on an investigation by the GAO, the subcommittee uncovered that out of more than 9,600 misconduct cases from 2010-2012, over 50 percent involved either attendance/leave or screening and security issues. The subcommittee also exposed that the TSA failed to follow the recommended penalty range by providing lighter punishments for employees who have shown misconduct. Public service is a public trust, and DHS employees who conduct such misconduct break that trust.

Assessing how the DHS spends taxpayer dollars for the programs and systems it buys. Based on analysis by congressional watchdogs, the subcommittee determined that about two-thirds of DHS acquisition programs were over budget. From 2008-2011, this cost taxpayers over $30 billion more than the department initially thought. Despite admitting that these programs are unaffordable, the DHS continues to put taxpayer dollars at high risk. With this startling information, the subcommittee is taking steps to improve discipline, accountability and transparency for the department’s acquisition programs.

Confronting administration officials over their scare tactics regarding sequestration and homeland security. The DHS had to backtrack from initial predictions of compromised border security and impassible airport security lines. I was interviewed by The Washington Post for a story titled, “They Said Sequester Would be Scary. Mostly, They Were Wrong.” Even the Post reported that the disaster predicted by the administration didn’t come true.

Pressing the DHS to improve efficiency by implementing the Government Accountability Office’s recommendations to save costs and eliminate programs that are duplicative. The subcommittee is also investigating the DHS’s new headquarters facility at the St. Elizabeth’s campus in Washington, D.C. Costs for this project have soared by over $1 billion more than anticipated to an astonishing $4.5 billion price tag. In addition, they do not expect to complete the project until 2026, over a decade from its original estimate. I am concerned that despite the department’s statements otherwise, it has not been properly planning for St. Elizabeth’s, and as a result, the project has been mismanaged and has squandered taxpayer dollars. The subcommittee on Oversight and Management Efficiency continues to keep a watchful eye over the DHS. With the nation $17 trillion in debt, the American people can’t afford a DHS with a lackadaisical spending approach that doesn’t directly protect the homeland. As the chairman of the subcommittee, I am committed to holding the department accountable to ensure it does not waste your hard earned tax dollars.

Duncan has represented South Carolina’s 3rd Congressional District since 2011. He sits on the Foreign Affairs, the Homeland Security and the Natural Resources committees.

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