DHS Urged to Collect More Data on Securing the Cities Spending

The program aims to reduce the risk of successful deployment of nuclear or radiological weapons in U.S. cities, and it establishes local threat detection and deterrence capabilities.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security does not collect information to fully track cities' use of Securing the Cities funds for approved purposes and to assess their performance in the program, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) concludes in a report posted May 13.

The program aims to reduce the risk of successful deployment of nuclear or radiological weapons in U.S. cities, and it establishes local threat detection and deterrence capabilities. DHS tracks cities' spending of program funds and some performance data through cities' quarterly reports but does not collect other data on itemized expenditures and to assess how effectively cities achieved performance metrics and program milestones or how they performed in drills that simulate a threat, GAO found.

For example, DHS does not compare information on expenditures to the purchase plans it approved for cities. As a result, DHS does not know the dollar amounts cities actually spent on program purchases. Expenditure data GAO requested show that cities spent most funds on detection equipment—$94.5 million of the $144.8 million cities spent through June 30, 2018. By regularly collecting expenditure information from cities and comparing it to approved purchase plans, DHS could better ensure these funds were spent consistent with program goals, the auditors noted.

The report also says DHS has not 1) fully developed potential changes or documented a plan for making changes to the STC program; 2) identified the basis for such changes; and 3) consistently communicated with cities, raising concerns about how the changes will impact them. DHS officials told GAO that the agency is considering several potential changes to the STC program that would broaden its geographic reach and scope and centralize acquisition of detection equipment, among other things, but it has not fully developed or documented these changes and does not have a strategy or plan for implementing them.

A law enacted in December 2018 requires DHS to develop an implementation plan for the STC program. The law's requirements would provide DHS an opportunity to identify the basis for potential changes, and assessing such changes would provide more reasonable assurance that they would strengthen the program.

In the report, GAO made four recommendations, including that DHS regularly collect detailed information from cities on program expenditures; analyze risks related to sustainment, work with cities to address these risks, and enforce sustainment-planning requirements for cities in the program; and clearly communicate to cities how the existing program will operate until a new program is in effect. DHS concurred with GAO's recommendations.

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