More than seven years after Congress required the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to establish state and local fusion centers to combat international and homegrown terrorist threats, the Department has failed to both measure their performance and effectiveness, or to track the millions of dollars they receive in federal grants, according to a new report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and highlighted by U.S. Senator Dr. Tom Coburn (R-OK).
Fusion centers are locally-run, multi-agency organizations that facilitate the sharing of information and intelligence to prevent terrorist attacks and crime within the United States. Today, DHS formally recognizes 78 fusion centers throughout the U.S. and its territories.
According to GAO, DHS has developed 11 performance measures related to the achievement of its homeland security mission, but has not yet tried to measure 10 out of these 11 metrics. Further, DHS has not collected the information it needs to do so. In addition, GAO found that DHS was unable to produce reliable data on the amount of taxpayer money it provides through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) preparedness grant program to fusion centers. While FEMA initially identified $124 million in funding for fusion centers in 2012, GAO found that many of the projects identified as being related to fusion centers were incorrectly categorized.
“I am concerned that this report finds similar problems to those that were discovered following a bipartisan investigation into the effectiveness of fusion centers from two years ago,” Dr. Coburn said. “The fact that after seven years, we still cannot tell whether fusion centers are keeping us any safer means that DHS needs to take a long, hard look at whether it needs to stop funding projects that don’t advance its mission”
In 2012, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI) investigation evaluated more than a year’s worth of reporting originating from fusion centers. Their investigation could not identify any reports that uncovered a terrorist threat, nor any contributions made by a fusion center to disrupt an active terrorist plot. It also uncovered numerous examples of wasteful spending of federal grant funds by fusion centers.
States used the aid to buy flat screen TVs, SUVs, hidden “shirt button” cameras, cell phone tracking devices, and other questionable surveillance equipment, the investigation found. “Following the PSI report, DHS and FEMA assured us that they were implementing changes to improve their oversight of taxpayer money for fusion centers, yet GAO confirms that there has been little if any improvement,” Dr. Coburn added.