Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

December 23, 2014

Celebrating Festivus by airing GAO’s grievances with DHS

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on December 23, 2014

Today, December 23rd, is when we celebrate Festivus. There is much to be learned about how to celebrate this day by reviewing how the Government Accountability Office treated DHS in 2014.


Here’s the headline that dragged me reluctantly into the Festivus spirit: “U.S. Not Fully Prepared For Nuclear Terrorist Attack Or Large-Scale Natural Catastrophe GAO Says.”

What in the name of all that is peace-and-goodwill-toward men could it possible mean to be “fully prepared for a nuclear terrorist attack?” How about being fully prepared for a “large scale natural catastrophe?” How do you do that? If you’re prepared, is it really a catastrophe?

True, it’s the Huffington Post’s headline writer not GAO that ruled on the nation’s inability to be ready for the end of the world.  GAO’s actual headline is much more unassuming: “Opportunities Exist to Strengthen Interagency Assessments and Accountability for Closing Capability Gaps.”

If you read between the lines (and the report) you could see how the Huffington Post (and the dozens of other outlets that jumped into the story) could semi-plausibly, though not helpfully, reach the conclusion that life as we know it will end soon if we don’t get going on those capability gaps.

But an overt hatchet job is not GAO’s style.


A Washington friend once described the Government Accountability Office (GAO) as an agency that bayonets the wounded.

I believe that characterization is unkind.

GAO has a job to do. They watch things for Congress. They are not brutal. They are persistent, particular and as far away from petulance as it’s possible for one agency to be. There is a nobility to what they do and to how they express what they discover.

This is the time of year when we could all benefit from listening to what GAO has to teach about the right way to celebrate Festivus. Or at least what is arguably the most important part of Festivus: the “Airing of Grievances”.

The celebration of Festivus — according to Festivus officials — begins with the “Airing of Grievances”, which takes place immediately after the Festivus dinner has been served. It consists of each person lashing out at others and the world about how they have been disappointed in the past year.

If you are shy, anonymously write your grievances on a sticky note and post the note to the Festivus Pole. …

If your family and friends are shy and reserved types, keep the airing of grievances short, or possibly include a rule that the only personal grievances that can be aired must be directed to those who did not attend the gathering (fair game) or public figures such as politicians and celebrities (always fair game).

Of course DHS is required game – like putting up Christmas decorations while the children are out trick or treating.


For Festivus purposes, a grievance is “a complaint about a real or imaginary wrong that causes resentment and is grounds for action.” 

According to GAO, it has aired over 2100 grievances about the Department of Homeland Security: “GAO has made over 2,100 recommendations to DHS since its establishment in 2003 to strengthen its management and integration efforts, among other things.”

Do the research. Behind each of those recommendations hides one or more grievances that require airing.  Remedial action might follow.  But that’s not the point.  Or at least not as much of the point as the actual airing.

Done correctly and professionally, there is a subtlety about grievance airing. See if you can spot the disappointment, the sighs, even the sadness, in the following  selection of 2014 GAO report titles (and the occasionally excerpt).  Hear also the infinite echo of hopefulness that if DHS tries just a little more it could be doing just a little bit better.

The emphasis, in italics, is mine.


  1. DHS’s Efforts to Modernize Key Enforcement Systems Could be Strengthenedhttp://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-62
  2. The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) role of collecting information and providing assistance on PII breaches, as currently defined by federal law and policy, has provided few benefits. http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-34
  3. Until DHS … addresses the cybersecurity implications of the emerging technologies in planning activities, information systems are at an increased risk of failure or being unavailable at critical moments. http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-125
  4. …DHS … officials acknowledge that they do not collect or assess data to determine whether the [Commercial Items] test program is used to the maximum extent practicable. As such, its limited use may indicate missed opportunities. http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-178
  5. DHS Needs to Strengthen Its Efforts to Modernize Key Enforcement Systems http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-342T
  6. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a component of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), has not identified or assessed fraud or noncompliance risks posed by schools that recommend and foreign students approved for optional practical training (OPT), in accordance with DHS risk management guidance. http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-356
  7. GAO… has identified several key factors that are important for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to implement its partnership approach with industry to protect critical infrastructure. DHS has made some progress in implementing its partnership approach, but has also experienced challenges coordinating with industry partners that own most of the critical infrastructure. …more needs to be done to accelerate the progress made. DHS still needs to fully implement the many recommendations on its partnership approach (and other issues) made by GAO and inspectors general to address cyber challenges. http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-464T
  8. DHS components have designed controls to help ensure compliance with the Department of the Treasury’s [Asset Forfeiture Fund] equitable sharing guidance, but controls could be enhanced though additional documentation and guidance. http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-318
  9. DHS Could Better Manage Its Portfolio to Address Funding Gaps and Improve Communications with Congress http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-332
  10. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has made progress in addressing high-risk areas for which it has sole responsibility, but significant work remains. http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-532T
  11. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has established mechanisms—including an intelligence framework and an analytic planning process—to better integrate analysis activities throughout the department, but the mechanisms are not functioning as intended. http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-397
  12. DHS Needs to Better Address Port Cybersecurity http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-459
  13. DHS and CBP have established performance measures and reporting processes for the JFC and ACTT in Arizona and the STC in South Texas; however, opportunities exist to strengthen these [Southwest Border] collaborative mechanisms by assessing results across the efforts and establishing written agreements. http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-494
  14. Continued Actions Needed to Strengthen [DHS] Oversight and Coordination of Research and Development http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-813T
  15. Improved Documentation, Resource Tracking, and Performance Measurement Could Strengthen [DHS Training] Efforts http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-688
  16. DHS Action Needed to Enhance Integration and Coordination of [Critical Infrastructure Protection] Vulnerability Assessment Efforts http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-507
  17. Additional Actions Needed to Determine Program Effectiveness and Strengthen Privacy Oversight Mechanisms http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-796T
  18. Federal Real Property: DHS and GSA Need to Strengthen the Management of DHS Headquarters Consolidation http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-648
  19. DHS OIG’s Structure, Policies, and Procedures Are Consistent with Standards, but Areas for Improvement Exist  http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-726
  20. Combating Nuclear Smuggling: Risk-Informed Covert Assessments and Oversight of Corrective Actions Could Strengthen Capabilities at the Border http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-826
  21. DHS Is Assessing Fusion Center Capabilities and Results, but Needs to More Accurately Account for Federal Funding Provided to Centers http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-15-155
  22. DHS Should Take Steps to Improve Cost Reporting and Eliminate Duplicate Processing http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-15-82
  23. Improvements Needed to Fully Implement the International Marriage Broker Regulation Act http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-15-3
  24. Federal and Transit Agencies Taking Steps to Build Transit Systems’ Resilience but Face Challenges  http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-15-159 
  25. Continued Action Needed to Strengthen Management of Administratively Uncontrollable Overtime http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-15-95 
  26. Opportunities Exist to Strengthen Interagency Assessments and Accountability for Closing Capability Gaps http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-15-20 — better known as “U.S. Not Fully Prepared For Nuclear Terrorist Attack Or Large-Scale Natural Catastrophe GAO Says.”

The circle closes. The grievances have been aired.

Now on to the Feats of Strength.


Happy Festivus

festivus 1 frank-costanza

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11 Comments »

Comment by Joe Citizen

December 23, 2014 @ 7:20 am

For Festivus purposes, a grievance is “a complaint about a real or imaginary wrong that causes resentment and is grounds for action.”

According to GAO, it has aired over 2100 grievances about the Department of Homeland Security: “GAO has made over 2,100 recommendations to DHS since its establishment in 2003 to strengthen its management and integration efforts, among other things.”

Do the research. Behind each of those recommendations hides one or more grievances that require airing. Remedial action might follow. But that’s not the point. Or at least not as much of the point as the actual airing.

Done correctly and professionally, there is a subtlety about grievance airing. See if you can spot the disappointment, the sighs, even the sadness, in the following selection of 2014 GAO report titles (and the occasionally excerpt). Hear also the infinite echo of hopefulness that if DHS tries just a little more it could be doing just a little bit better.

We here on “Main Street USA” have many, many grievances especially when we see convicted an open border to the south and border guards being killed and others babysitting those who have been permitted to enter this nation without proper application and medical certificate while others who do adhere to the law, stand way back in line and yes, felons released to walk among us by the same DHS who is supposed to safeguard our security, many grievances, yet do our serving divisive politicians care, I think not! Without conference with the US Congress and Senate, the executive branch has chosen to do release the worst terrorists back to enemy lines, supported the Muslim Brotherhood and now enables Tehran to have WMD in hand and I have had to use another name and email address and location to voice my concerns as a citizen on DHS once again so free speech is only for those who chant, kill the cops and a society which fails to repent and allow such vile intent to adversely affect our nation and despite again blocking my ability to speak out in such disfavor against such dastardly deeds from within, God Bless America for we folks are being led by Lucifer and DHS releasing criminals and a White House making deals in exchange for a deserter and leaving our brave warriors at the “Benghzai Massacre” to die, well, War looms ahead and so many of us who clearly see this charade allowed to diminish America so, truly saddened….

God Bless our nation and a most charitable people! God Bless each and every law enforcement officer in our nation and those who are serving in the military and those at NSA who are listening attentively to those who plan to do us harm given the weakness and lack for any real leadership other than for spewing divisiveness and intentional harm to our Judeo-Christian country and our principles and checks and balances established long ago to thwart the actions of this eight year White House which on its last day will see a nation broken in so many ways.

Joe Citizen
“Main Street USA”

Comment by William R. Cumming

December 23, 2014 @ 9:34 am

WOW! Quite a post Chris! Thanks!

Unfortunately IMO the Huffington Post headline is low key! Why?

First! The Russian, Chinese, N. Korean, Pakistani version of their SIOPs could still be executed against the US. SIOP=Strategic Integrated Operating Plan. Unlikely IMO that the UK, France, and India would do so or even have such anti-US plans.

Second! IMO any utilization of an actual weapon by a US enemy actually through missile attack or an IND/RDD is likely to bring about the final collapse of democracy IMO in the USA.

Already almost 75-80% of federal programs, functions, or activities are NOT accessible to citizens and residents of the USA due to security classification or failure to comply with FOIA. And Congress itself also is deprived of the information it needs for effective oversight or does not wish to due the heavy lifting required.

And let’s face it–GAO pulls its punches because Congress itself does not really want to face the bad news. Nor of course does a WH that also pitty-pats around the tough issues.

Third! FEMA is about distribution of money to grantees with little real oversight of how much accomplished with that money. This includes States and their local governments and OFA’s [other federal departments and agencies] to which it gives funds to accomplish mission assignments.

Fourth! DHS and FEMA not really interested in science, engineering, or technology. Ask how many people in FEMA/DHS work Climate Change issues. And now of course the science deniers control both Houses of the Congress.

Fifth! And myth pervades most public policy today in USA leadership circles. Best example IMO! Wall Street has been reformed! Another! US Higher Ed focused on education not training!

Well let’s face it! You often don’t get what you pay for.

Comment by Donald Quixote

December 23, 2014 @ 9:37 am

If there are no consequences, especially for the low hanging issues, does it really matter how many reports are written and recommendations are made? GAO and CRS do benefit from this process for many of their reports only have to be slightly updated for publication two years later – a true savings of our tax money.

The feats of strength may be a healthier and more positive Festivus tradition for us. Several coworkers are meeting after work at the gym to celebrate it today.

Happy Festivus to all.

Comment by William R. Cumming

December 23, 2014 @ 10:10 am

Thanks Don! In the over 15 years since I retired the debated issues have not changed much. But lurking below the horizon IMO are policy and issues that might be akin to horses hooves on the cobblestones of the castle at midnight!

Comment by claire rubin

December 23, 2014 @ 11:49 am

Don Q makes a good point. We need more oversight, accountability, and consequences, in my opinion.

Comment by William R. Cumming

December 23, 2014 @ 2:02 pm

WE THE PEOPLE! That government of the people, for the people, by the people shall not perish from this earth.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS TO ALL!

Comment by Donald Quixote

December 23, 2014 @ 2:57 pm

I do not see it as a matter of oversight and accountability, it is consequences. Well over eighty Congressional committees have oversight over homeland security issues, as well as the media and public.

There has been a belief that: Failure = Budget Increases. As sad as it sounds, an analysis of the federal budget over the last forty years can support this argument. Success may be less profitable or more difficult to sell for crisis funding.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays HSW.

Comment by Joe Citizen

December 23, 2014 @ 6:16 pm

Breaking News:

RELEASE AND CATCH: $5M reward
for Al Qaeda leader freed from Gitmo

Reuters

THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION is scrambling to track down Al Qaeda terrorist Ibrahim al-Rubaysh, released from Guantanamo Bay years ago, offering a $5 million reward for information on him and placing him on a global terrorist list.

Comment by William R. Cumming

December 23, 2014 @ 10:05 pm

IMO Congress has almost totally failed in oversight of DHS! Eighty committees and not one expert on DHS!

Comment by Quin

December 24, 2014 @ 7:52 am

Chris,

Nice post. You might also find interesting that about 2 weeks before this report was published, a “data analyst” from the GAO was taking a peek at my LinkedIn page where my writings on this subject can be found.

And Bill, the below I wrote well over a year ago:

All these solutions have so far focused on issues internal to the Executive Branch, but Congress also plays a role. In addition to providing the statutory foundations for unity of command and giving the president, and to a lesser extent the DHS Secretary and FEMA Administrator, responsibility for the federal government’s response to catastrophes, it also funds these activities and oversees their execution by the Executive Branch. For the latter, Congress has not shown a critical interest except after major catastrophes, such as Hurricane Katrina, or 9/11. For one, Congressional oversight, as has
been repeatedly shown, is fractured among as many as 108 committees overseeing DHS and homeland security. The last significant contraction in homeland security oversight probably occurred in 1994 when the House Armed Services Committee relinquished oversight authority over civil defense programs with the repeal of the Federal Civil Defense Act of 1950 and its restatement as Title VI of the Stafford Act.

Even when Congress determines that homeland security activities fall short of their statutory responsibilities, Congress rarely, if ever acts. For instance, in a letter dated February 26, 2010 to the DHS Secretary from the United States Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, the committee noted DHS and FEMA in their draft NDRF had failed to meet the requirements set forth for a National Disaster Recovery Strategy in 6 U.S.C. § 771. FEMA went ahead and issued the NDRF anyway to
no discernible response from Congress. Neither did FEMA’s National Disaster Housing Strategy issued on January 16, 2009 meet the requirements of the National Disaster Housing Strategy found at 6 U.S.C. § 772. In addition, DHS and FEMA have never
issued the previously mentioned federal response capability inventory, and has belatedly
issued a stovepiped Catastrophic Resource Report.

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