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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Homeland Security achieves new level in auditability

The Homeland Security Department’s decade-long struggle to integrate components and achieve clean books passed a major milestone with the release this month of DHS’ annual financial report, officials told Government Executive. For the first time, the department was given a “qualified audit opinion,” having submitted five statements of financial management for review.

The key area of improvement was auditing of general property, plant and equipment management, particularly in its Coast Guard organization, officials said.

Undersecretary for Management Rafael Borras praised DHS Chief Financial Officer Peggy Sherry for her “in-depth risk assessment of the issues,” and for working “closely with our component agencies to create mitigation plans” and for meeting “regularly with component CFOs to ensure adherence to the established milestones and remediation plans.” Other partners included DHS’ Office of the Chief Procurement Officer and the Office of the Chief Readiness Support Officer.

When the department was stood up in 2003, auditors faced 30 significant deficiency conditions, of which 18 were material weaknesses, Sherry explained, so progress required work with the Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General, Congress, the Office of Management and Budget and GAO to implement the 2004 DHS Financial Accountability Act.

When the 2011 audit produced qualified opinions in two areas, Secretary Janet Napolitano pushed for execution of a “deeper dive” into all five statements in 2012. With billions in property for the whole department spread nationwide, Sherry added, it took major collaboration to audit them all at the same time.

“The full-scope audit opinion,” Sherry said, “is confirmation of DHS’ ongoing commitment to instituting sound financial practices to safeguard taxpayer dollars. We’ve provided reasonable assurance that internal controls over financial reporting as required by law are effective. With the exceptions of a few areas, we have good business practices in place to ensure our financial statements are accurate.”

DHS’ progress in general management reforms drew praise a year ago from Comptroller Danny Werfel, but its audit issues remain on the Government Accountability Office’s high-risk list.

-Charles S. Clark, GovExec.com
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