Department of Homeland Security:

Efforts to Assess Realignment of Its Field Office Structure

GAO-12-185R: Published: Sep 28, 2012. Publicly Released: Sep 28, 2012.

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Stephen L. Caldwell
(202) 512-9610
caldwells@gao.gov

 

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What GAO Found

DHS reported taking some steps to assess the realignment of its regional/field office structure. Since submitting an initial plan to Congress in 2004 that outlined regionalization, consolidation, and colocation opportunities, DHS officials said the agency considered the potential implementation of a unified regional field office structure through two major initiatives--the 2004 I-Staff review and the department's 2010 BUR. However, the I-Staff Regional Concept of Operations was not finalized or adopted, and in April 2012 a senior DHS official involved in the BUR effort stated that DHS no longer intends to implement the BUR recommendation related to regionalization because it is no longer the department's preferred approach. DHS had limited or no documentation related to either of these reviews, including the resulting key decisions from the efforts. As a result, we are unable to determine the extent to which DHS has fully considered the realignment of its regional/field office structure, including costs and benefits, since 2004. Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government calls for clear documentation of significant events, which include assumptions and methods surrounding key decisions, and the standards also state that this documentation should be readily available for examination. DHS officials acknowledged the lack of documentation and plan to better document any future realignment efforts. DHS and component officials stated that operational and current budgetary constraints were key challenges to establishing a single DHS regional/field office structure, but they are exploring smaller-scale alternatives.

DHS and component officials identified several challenges related to large-scale regionalization, including concerns that the initiative would be disruptive to DHS and component workforce, missions, and operations. DHS officials also said that such realignment efforts would likely divert staff from their normal missionfocused duties. Another challenge cited was the cost associated with relocating facilities and terminating leases. While officials acknowledged that long-term cost savings and efficiencies could exceed the costs of initial investments in some cases, they stated that the short-term implementation costs remain a significant barrier to the implementation of a regional structure. Given the identified challenges of implementing a single, unified field office structure, DHS officials said the department's current thinking on harmonizing component regional configurations is best reflected in the Department of Homeland Security Strategic Plan: Fiscal Years 2012-2016. Specifically, the department plans to "explore virtual approaches to regional and functional coordination." However, without having adequate, specific documentation related to its regionalization assessments, decision makers at DHS are in a weaker position to assess the strengths and weaknesses of related policy options or alternatives.

Why GAO Did This Study

This letter formally transmits a summary of oral briefings we gave on September 19 and 21, 2012, and subsequent agency comments. We provided this briefing in response to a request from Congress to examine issues surrounding the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) regional/field office realignment efforts. Our work focused on DHS realignment efforts beginning in 2004, when DHS submitted a report to Congress stating that it would implement a "Regional Concept" to improve coordination with external partners and integrate internal DHS functions within departmental regions. Specifically, we addressed (1) the extent to which DHS has assessed the realignment of its key operational components' regional/field office structures since submitting its initial plan to Congress in 2004, (2) the challenges, if any, DHS and its key operational components have identified in the department's efforts to realign into a single DHS regional/field office structure, and what, if any, alternative actions have been identified.

For more information, contact Stephen L. Caldwell (202) 512-9610 or caldwells@gao.gov.

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