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OIG report reveals weakness in A.S. homeland security

Advisory Council rarely met; political influence affected decisions
fili@samoanews.com

Among the concerns raised in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General performance audit report of grants awarded to the local Department of Homeland Security is the lack of involvement by the local governing bodies, which oversee local homeland security issues.
 
Additionally, U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officials say “political influences” affect decisions in American Samoa on homeland security decisions.
 
The audit centered on American Samoa’s management of the State Homeland Security Program (SHSP) grants for fiscal years 2009 thru 2011. (See yesterday’s edition for part one of this story)
 
According to the report, one of the three factors that contributed to the “Territory’s inability to integrate” the National Preparedness System components into an efficient and effective system was weaknesses in utilizing governing bodies.
 
ASDHS’ governing bodies come together through the American Samoa Homeland Security Advisory Council (HSAC), which was established by executive order in 2006 to advise ASDHS in all homeland security areas including planning, organization, equipment, training, and exercises. Its membership comprises heads of ASG departments and agencies, federal representatives, and representatives from the private sector, the report says.
 
Additionally, the HSAC was established to conduct comprehensive reviews and analyses of the current state of preparedness and to assess local capabilities, in order to detect, prevent, and respond to acts of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction; to develop and provide recommendations; and to review and approve the State strategy and ASDHS program goals, objectives, and implementation plans.
 
GOVERNING BODIES RARELY MET
 
The report says the territory’s oversight of its State Homeland Security Program “was ineffective” because its governing bodies did not:
 
a)            Collaborate on risk and capabilities-based assessments.
 
b)            Evaluate goals, objectives, and implementation steps in State strategies.
 
c)            Support ongoing reviews and refinement of the territory’s homeland security program as “new lessons were learned, and new priorities, challenges, threats, and hazards evolved”.
 
According to the audit, this was because they rarely met, noting it found no evidence of collaboration, evaluation and support.
 
The report pointed out while the FYs 2010 and 2011 State strategies say the HSAC has a major role in establishing the State strategy for the Territory, there were only four HSAC meetings convened between 2007 and January 2013.
 
And, the one HSAC meeting in FYs 2009 through 2011 was convened for its members to meet and interact with FEMA Headquarters and FEMA Region IX staff.
 
Further, according to the report, 17 HSAC working groups were established between 2007 and 2012 to review past State strategies and make necessary revisions as required based on the Territory’s needs and in conjunction with the National Strategy.
 
However, only six working groups identified by ASDHS were involved in homeland security activities, and the six working groups were mostly involved with project management or project specific efforts such as developing the Territorial Disaster Assistance Plan and monitoring a land mobile radio project, it says.
 
“For the most part, the Territory did not ensure that its Homeland Security Program got the attention and resources needed for an effective program outcome,” the report says. “Lapses in leadership and accountability occurred because established governance bodies rarely met to address homeland security matters or to ensure preparedness activities were integrated across disciplines, agencies, and levels of government.”
 
Additionally, because governing bodies rarely met, the Territory’s departments and agencies did not actively participate in State strategy development and evaluation, State preparedness reporting, or prioritization of homeland security projects.
 
The audit report further noted that ASDHS organizational duties and responsibilities were not always clearly defined, and frequent organizational and personnel changes occurred.
 
It went on to say that each ASG department or agency with homeland security responsibilities determined its own needs — without obtaining a Territory-wide risk and capabilities-based view of preparedness.
 
“The resulting impression was that homeland security matters were the sole responsibility of ASDHS rather than the American Samoa Government,” according to the report, adding that FEMA officials confirmed that the absence of leadership and accountability regarding program success were the primary reasons why projects in the Territory were not being accomplished.
 
“FEMA officials also said changes in management, priorities, and projects had been problematic. They also said that because the Territory is a very small island, political influences played an important part in homeland security management decisions,” according to the report.
 
“A stabilized ASDHS organization with defined roles and responsibilities is one of the key elements of accountability for program success and would help mitigate the political influences affecting homeland security management decisions,” it says.
 
RECOMMENDATIONS
 
OIG recommends ASDHS establish a firm requirement for HSAC and working group meetings to be held quarterly or more frequently for the purpose of:
 
•            Providing a risk and capabilities-based blueprint for comprehensive, Territory-wide planning for the homeland security efforts;
 
•            Identifying realistic strategic goals and implementation steps that provide sufficient information on how goals and objectives would be achieved;
 
•            Monitoring State strategy progress, compiling key management information, tracking trends, and keeping the strategy on track; and
 
•            Mitigating the political influences affecting homeland security management decisions.
 
FEMA concurred with the recommendation and said that it would remind ASDHS to comply with its own administrative policies, which call for the HSAC to conduct risk-based planning for the Territory’s preparedness goals and objectives at least quarterly.
 
Another recommendation by OIG is that each HSAC and Working Group meeting be fully documented, reviewed, and acknowledged by ASDHS officials; and, as appropriate, be forwarded to FEMA officials for review and approval.
 
FEMA concurred and ASDHS agreed as well saying that this is not a new issue as it was and still is the practice of the management and staff to ensure minutes of HSAC and Working Group meetings are documented and made available upon request by FEMA officials for their information and review.
 
In it’s response, ASDHS said that under the new leadership and government, it will establish firm requirements for the HSAC and its Working Group meetings.
 
In moving forward, the HSAC held two meetings — one each in January and February last year — to discuss updates to the Territorial Disaster Assistance Plan (TDAP). It also provided copies of the minutes and those in attendance.
 
According to ASDHS, a schedule of HSAC meetings will be inserted in the ASDHS calendar of events for FY 2014 and forwarded to FEMA Region IX for their information.
 
It also says the four bullet points outlined in the recommendation will be taken into consideration in the restructuring of the HSAC and its Working Groups for purposes of improving their respective roles and functionality as the governing bodies for these federal grant programs.
 
See next week’s edition of Samoa News for more from the audit report.



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