DHS lacks comprehensive strategy to counter violent extremism, report says

The Department of Homeland Security is failing to assess critical external factors and has not yet implemented a data governance framework while developing strategies around terrorism prevention, a new report warns.

big data (GarryKillian/Shutterstock.com)

Optional caption goes here. Optional caption goes here. Optional caption goes here. Optional caption goes here.

The Department of Homeland Security lacks a comprehensive strategy to counter violent extremism, according to a new Government Accountability Office report, with key elements like a documented data governance framework still missing from agency guidelines.

DHS is failing to assess critical external factors like the economy and emerging technologies as it develops strategies around terrorism prevention, the report states, and has not yet taken steps to incorporate violence and terrorism prevention data into a department-wide framework previously released in 2019.

While the agency's framework for countering violent extremism contains some of the seven key elements included in GAO's outline for a comprehensive strategic framework, the report says it does not include or only partially addresses several elements required to further enhance DHS' strategic planning and data governance efforts. For example, the agency's framework does not identify what resources or funding is required to execute its strategies around countering violent extremism, the report says, and lacks a common terminology for targeted violence, which GAO suggests can lead to misunderstandings when developing and managing information and data.

The agency has taken some steps to begin developing a data governance framework, the report notes, including establishing a data governance council. However, GAO says the agency cannot make "well-informed decisions" on countering violent extremism until it revises its 2019 guidelines.

By failing to incorporate a data governance framework into its counterterrorism strategies, the report says DHS "risks challenges related to quality, availability, and integrity of the data it uses to support its targeted violence and terrorism prevention mission."

"Although DHS has started to develop a data governance framework for some areas such as immigration, emergency preparedness, intelligence, and law enforcement, it is important for DHS to fully document and define its process about what the framework would entail for its targeted violence and terrorism prevention mission given the increasing threat to the homeland," the report adds.

In its response to the report, DHS acknowledged its approach to monitoring and tracking progress on implementation for critical action items "has been fragmented and inconsistent and lacks dedicated resources and oversight," and concurred with GAO's recommendations to update its guidelines to include all seven key elements of a comprehensive strategy.

The agency also said it was working to establish a definition for targeted violence, which it said remains under review and "will serve as the basis for a common terminology" once published.

However, the agency said it does not plan to update its strategic framework for countering terrorism and targeted violence. DHS instead noted in its response that it will "evaluate options to revise, supplement, or issue a new version" of its strategy once the White House issues its own updated versions of the National Security Strategy and National Strategy for Counterterrorism.