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Posted at 8:00 PM ET, 06/ 9/2010

GAO again slams U.S. national security agencies

By Jeff Stein

Government auditors have once again excoriated U.S. homeland security and defense agencies, saying in a new report Wednesday that they “do not always share relevant information with their national security partners.”

The report by the Government Accountability Office, which monitors the federal government for Congress, was largely an aggregation of its previous reporting on the failures of U.S. military, law enforcement, diplomatic and homeland security agencies to work together.

It’s a theme sounded repeatedly in the past decade, from the 9/11 Commission report in 2004 to the Senate intelligence committee’s findings just last month that U.S. intelligence and national security agencies failed to share information on Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian accused of trying to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight last Christmas.

“Effective collaboration among multiple agencies and across federal, state, and local governments,” said the GAO in its report, prepared for the House Armed Services subcommittee on oversight and investigations, “is critical.”

Even more so now than a decade ago, said the author of the report, John H. Pendleton, director of the GAO’s Defense Capabilities and Management unit.

“National security threats have evolved and require involvement beyond the traditional agencies of DoD, the Department of State, and USAID [the U.S. Agency for International Development],” Pendleton said in his prepared testimony.

“The Departments of Homeland Security, Energy, Justice, the Treasury, Agriculture, Commerce, and Health and Human Services are now a bigger part of the equation.

“What has not yet evolved,” he added, “are the mechanisms that agencies use to coordinate national security activities, such as developing overarching strategies to guide planning and execution of missions, or sharing and integrating national security information across agencies. The absence of effective mechanisms can be a hindrance to achieving national security objectives.”

The GAO also said organizational differences and the lack of a well-trained workforce were hindering the integration of national security policies and performance.

“Agencies do not always have the right people with the right skills in the right jobs at the right time to meet the challenges they face—including having a workforce that is able to quickly address crises,” it said.

“Moreover, agency performance management systems often do not recognize or reward interagency collaboration, and training is needed to understand other agencies’ processes or cultures.”

The GAO’s criticism were not limited to domestic inter-agency cooperation.

In Iraq, Pendleton said, U.S. agencies advising government ministries were essentially bowling alone, “without overarching direction from a lead entity to integrate their efforts.”

Likewise, differences between the State Department’s regional desks and the Pentagon’s combatant commands hampered cooperation, it said.

“Both are aligned differently in terms of the geographic areas they cover … As a result … coordination becomes more challenging and the potential for gaps and overlaps in policy implementation is greater,” the GAO said.

Both Defense and State were woefully short of personnel with foreign language skills, the GAO said.

On the home front, DoD and DHS were reluctant to share information with outsiders, the auditors found, because of concerns over the security of their information.

Conversely, the effort by DHS and Health and Human Services (HHS) to share leadership in combating pandemics has led to confusion.

GAO said “their roles are unclear…(and) a federal response could be slowed as agencies resolve their roles and responsibilities following the onset of a significant outbreak.”

The subcommittee chairman, Vic Snyder, D-Ark, resisted any inclination he might have had to pile on with his own criticisms of the agencies.

“We have much work to do on getting the kind of national security system that will keep us safe from the threats of today and tomorrow,” he said in a prepared statement. “This hearing is part of this ongoing discussion.”

In the same spirit, the ranking Republican on the panel, Rob Wittman of Virginia, sounded a note of comity that is rarely heard on the Hill these days.

“There seems to be general agreement that we need a better system of coordinating our national security efforts, but no agreement on how,” Wittman said in his prepared statement.

“The principal challenges lie in resolving command and budget authorities, yet another issue shared by the Congress and the executive branch. ..” he added, throwing Afghanistan and Pakistan into the mix of interagency challenges.

“What would you do differently?” he asked the witnesses, which included defense experts from think tanks and academia.

“The second, no less urgent but less complex: how would you manage the federal government’s response to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico?”

By Jeff Stein  | June 9, 2010; 8:00 PM ET
Categories:  Homeland Security, Intelligence, Justice/FBI, Military  | Tags:  House Armed Services subcommittee on oversight and investigations, John H. Pendleton, Rep. Rob Wittman, Rep. Vic Snyder  
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Next: Soldiers and diplomats still lack language skills


Only a national police can erase some of these problems.

Posted by: john_bruckner | June 9, 2010 9:31 PM | Report abuse

Given their terrible human rights track record to date, I'd much rather see a bunch of decentralized intelligence agencies buffoonishly distracted by bureaucratic infighting, than a single all-powerful agency playing fast and loose with Americans' civil rights (and foreigners lives).

And quite frankly, the ponderous, heavy-handed, culturally illiterate American intelligence establishment has done a far better job of creating enemies for us than preventing/defeating them. I don't expect that creating a massive KGB clone would fix that problem.

Posted by: kcx7 | June 10, 2010 12:45 AM | Report abuse

The GAO hankers for an accurate audit of agencies whose self-perpetuating job is to create 'enemies'. Rather droll in a grim sort of way.
As to managing "the federal government's response to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico": For the most voluble of those who find it politically necessary to feign concern: A cattleprod driven swimming tour of the oil rigs. No wetsuits or hanging on to the pylons allowed.

Posted by: beowulf3 | June 10, 2010 2:37 AM | Report abuse

Everyone knows that switching on a portch light will frighten off burglars, even if you don't know exactly where and what the threat is. But before 9/11, no one even switched on a portch light (Phoenix Memo, Moussaoui's computer, etc.). Makes you wonder if the 9/11 plot had been co-opted by one of our many agencies that do not cooperate with one another, and was being run by one of them as a counter-terrorism effort. I wonder what the informants inside the plot thought as the planes taxied down the runways... when they gonna spring the trap? When they gonna spring it? OMG

Posted by: blasmaic | June 10, 2010 6:36 AM | Report abuse

The DHS is a complete failure and a waste of money. This is a prime example of why people look at the federal government and see nothing but an ineptness. The DHS should be eliminated and the FBI should be the focus for investigating plots, which oh btw is what they are actually trained for.

Posted by: Ireland2 | June 10, 2010 7:22 AM | Report abuse

Yes, DHS is a disaster. As an original "plankowner" in March 2003, I knew it was a mistake. My former agency, U.S. Customs, was one of the best law enforcement agencies around. Unfortunately what Customs turned into, ICE, is a laughing stock. Most DHS agencies are. Glad I left 3 years ago.

Posted by: RB1019 | June 10, 2010 8:06 AM | Report abuse

It's a job for DNI...dundundah!

Posted by: whocares666 | June 10, 2010 9:34 AM | Report abuse

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