The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) said in a new report that the agency has made improvements to its data management practices in recent years, and said continued improvement is necessary to address internal control issues.

Meanwhile, DHS said that at least some of the report’s conclusions are misleading given that they cover findings from several years ago, and the agency listed out numerous examples of its progress on data issues since then.

Review from FY2017-2019

The OIG report’s conclusions stem from a review of challenges that were found to be hindering the agency’s use of diverse databases to support mission operations and covered fiscal years 2017 to 2019.  The new report contains no formal recommendations for further DHS action.

In discussing its review of DHS activity from FY 2017 to FY 2019, the OIG grouped systemic data issues connected to widespread deficiencies into five categories:

  1. Security and technical controls;
  2. Program and operational oversight;
  3. Guidelines and processes;
  4. System design and functionality; and
  5. Training and resources.

“DHS has improved its information security program and developed various plans and strategies to improve the quality and management of its data,” the DHS OIG wrote. “However, follow-through and continued improvement will be essential to address the internal control issues underlying the data deficiencies we highlighted.”

Conclusions Dated, Agency Says

In response to the report, DHS acknowledged that there’s always room for continuous improvement to fully take advantage of its data assets.

The agency did, however, strongly disagree with the report’s finding that personnel “do not have essential information they need for decision-making or to effectively and efficiently carry out day-to-day mission operations,” calling it an overly broad conclusion.

“DHS believes the report is misleading to readers, as it provides a skewed discussion concerning the challenges hindering DHS’ use of certain databases, especially when one considers how dated the information is on which the OIG relied when writing its report,” DHS wrote in response.

DHS provided examples of activities that are currently in progress to improve its ability to leverage data, including:

  • Completing a DHS Evidence-Based Data Strategy that aligns with the Evidence Act;
  • Establishing a DHS Data Governance Council Charter to implement standardization and align with National Information Exchange Model Standards;
  • Finalizing a DHS Maturity Model to assess the maturity of DHS Data Domains;
  • Finalizing a DHS Data Domain Structure that supports a robust data governance model;
  • Developing a DHS Open Data Plan ensuring open government data and protecting confidential information; and
  • Completing the DHS data inventory and finalizing Data Sharing Agreements.

While the OIG did not include any recommendations in the report, DHS said that it welcomes any “specific actionable recommendations.”

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Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.