DHS Needs To Take Additional Actions To Identify Opportunities To ‘Harmonize’ Access Control Efforts


The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Screening Coordination Office (SCO) has taken actions to support harmonization across DHS access control efforts, but it hasn’t updated its goals and objectives to help guide progress toward DHS’s broader strategic framework for harmonization,” according to a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) audit report.

GAO found that “SCO’s strategic framework is based on two screening and credentialing policy documents—the 2006 Credentialing Initiative Report and 2008 Credentialing Framework Initiative,” but according to SCO officials, “they continue to rely on these documents to provide their office with a high-level strategic approach.”

GAO “found that the goals and objectives outlined in the two documents are no longer current or relevant. In recent years, SCO has helped the department make progress toward its harmonization efforts by responding to and assisting with department-wide initiatives and DHS component needs, such as developing new programs or restructuring existing ones. However, without updated goals and objectives, SCO cannot ensure that it is best supporting DHS-wide screening and credentialing harmonization efforts.”

Critical infrastructure protection access controls limit access to those with a legitimate need, and DHS is the lead federal agency for coordinating critical infrastructure protection efforts with other federal agencies and partnering with nonfederal stakeholders.

GAO reported, “DHS relies on partnership models to support collaboration efforts among federal and nonfederal critical infrastructure stakeholders, but has not taken actions to harmonize federally-administered access control efforts across critical infrastructure sectors. According to DHS officials, these partnerships have not explored harmonization of access control efforts across sectors, because this has not been raised as a key issue by the members and because DHS does not have a dedicated forum that would engage user groups in exploring these issues and identifying potential solutions. DHS’s partnership models offer a mechanism by which DHS and its partners can explore the challenges users and operators may encounter and determine opportunities for harmonizing the screening and credentialing processes to address these challenges.”

GAO reviewed six federally-administered critical infrastructure access control efforts and found they “generally followed similar screening and credentialing processes.”

“Each of these efforts applies to a different type of infrastructure,” GAO said. “For example, the Transportation Security Administration’s Transportation Worker Identification Credential controls access to ports, the Department of Defense (DOD) Common Access Card controls access to military installations and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) regulates access to commercial nuclear power plants.”

GAO said it “found that selected characteristics, such as whether a federal agency or another party has responsibility for vetting or what types of prior criminal offenses might disqualify applicants, varied across these access control efforts. In addition, these access control efforts generally affect two groups of stakeholders—users and operators—differently depending on their specific roles and interests. Users are individuals who require access to critical infrastructure as an essential function of their job; while, operators own or manage facilities, such as airports and chemical facilities.

Regardless of infrastructure type, users and operators GAO interviewed reported some common factors that can present challenges in their use of these access controls. For example, both users and operators reported applicants requiring access to similar types of infrastructure or facilities may be required to submit the same background information multiple times, which can be costly and inefficient.

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