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Studies Reveal System Flaws

THE DEPARTMENT OF Homeland Security’s (DHS’s) American Shield Initiative (ASI)—a program of sensors, cameras, and databases that monitor U.S. land borders—lacks “key management capabilities” and has failed to define “key acquisition management processes,” such as those for tracking and overseeing contractors, says a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The auditors note that DHS has not fully staffed the ASI program office and has only defined roles and responsibilities for 3 of 47 positions.

Another GAO report found that Congress should consider giving DHS the authority to require the chemical industry to address plant security. DHS and the Environmental Protection Agency should study the security benefits that accrue when plants use safer technologies, the authors urge. DHS responded in an addendum by saying that safer technologies wouldn’t reduce security risks. Congress is considering several bills on chemical plant regulation.

A third report examined emergency preparedness. While the federal government has awarded billions of dollars in grants in recent years to states and localities, it knows little about how they use these funds or gauge the effectiveness of how they use those funds, according to this report. This may be changing with Fiscal Year 2006 homeland security grants under the Urban Area Security Initiative. Under this program, applicants must provide an “investment justification” with their grant application to specify what they will do with the money.

Fraud against the government was the topic of a fourth GAO study. The processes used by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to compensate victims of Hurricane Katrina with “Expedited Assistance” were easy targets for fraud, its auditors found. For example, site visits to more than 200 locations where damaged property was claimed showed that more than 80 of these properties were “bogus.”