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Coordination trouble for DHS workers abroad

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Employees of the Homeland Security Department stationed abroad and their State Department hosts have had some difficulty coordinating with domestic management, a report from the Government Accountability Office says.

For a recently released report, dated Sept. 25, GAO interviewed DHS and State officials in 10 countries about their relationship with their domestic managers. DHS had about 1,800 employees in 80 countries as of May. For example, Transportation Security Administration employees work with foreign governments to secure U.S.-bound flights, and the Secret Service combats counterfeiting of U.S. currency.

In one instance of failed coordination, domestic DHS personnel took down a communication link used by a group a criminals that they didn't realize law enforcement officers abroad were monitoring. The department's personnel in the country in question told GAO that they could have prevented the mishap if their domestic counterparts had consulted with them.

In general, according to a deputy chief of mission who responded to the survey, "DHS domestic management regularly gets involved in international affairs without informing DHS field office or embassy management," the report says. A deputy chief of mission is the State Department's second in command at an embassy or consulate.

Other State Department officials, including a deputy chief of mission, told GAO that they struggle to find space for DHS personnel in their facilities.

Nonetheless, the survey respondents generally reported having few challenges related to working with DHS from abroad.

The report also calls for more coordination on international matters within DHS. The department's components have disparate rationales for how they deploy resources abroad, and a unified approach would help DHS align international resources with departmentwide priorities, the report says.

The components also track their international costs differently, which has frustrated DHS efforts to aggregate the data or compare costs from component to component.

For more:
- download the report, GAO-13-681 (.pdf)

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