GAO called on DHS to improve how it collects hiring and vetting data. 

GAO called on DHS to improve how it collects hiring and vetting data.  SOPA Images / Getty Images

DHS needs to improve how it collects employee hiring and vetting data, GAO reports

The watchdog’s analysis found that the department did not meet its average hiring time targets in fiscal 2022 for nine out of 13 priority positions.

The Homeland Security Department’s efforts to quickly onboard personnel in essential positions has been hindered by a myriad of divergent data and vetting practices within its component agencies, a Government Accountability Office report has found. The watchdog called on the department to improve how it collects hiring and vetting data. 

“Having more accurate information could help provide additional clarity on DHS’s hiring and vetting efforts, including whether DHS is making timely hiring decisions so that it does not result in DHS losing out on otherwise qualified candidates,” said the report, which was published Tuesday.  

In its analysis, GAO found that DHS did not meet its average targets in fiscal 2022 for how long it takes to onboard candidates for nine out of 13 positions that the department has designated as priority. Examples of those priority positions that missed their targets included Border Patrol agents and Customs and Border Protection Air Interdiction agents. 

Additionally, GAO reported that DHS agencies do not track and report the time they take to hire candidates consistently, with some having different starting points. Department officials told GAO this is because some component agencies mass hire or post job announcements with indefinite application deadlines. 

While GAO considered this practice to be acceptable, it recommended that DHS clearly disclose limitations to this data when reporting to other agencies. 

GAO also discovered issues with DHS’ system for tracking the use of reciprocity, which is when an agency accepts the findings of an existing background investigation or trust determination regarding a job candidate with prior federal service. 

For example, the watchdog found that a given position could have multiple different names in the system with different spellings or acronyms. This makes it difficult to correctly determine the number of individuals who have a certain position. 

DHS said that it will begin using a new system in fiscal 2026. GAO recommended that the system include standardized position titles among other capabilities. 

GAO also recommended that component agency hiring personnel be included in hiring forums to help share faster onboarding practices and that DHS implement a candidate experience framework for personnel vetting that can be deployed department-wide

The department concurred with each of the report’s recommendations in a letter accompanying the report. In the letter, DHS officials said its processing time from fiscal 2023 to April 30, 2024 for applying reciprocity is down to seven days compared to nine in fiscal 2022 and 11 for fiscal years 2020 through 2021.

DHS also argues in the letter that data from fiscal 2022, which GAO used for time-to-hire statistics, might not be indicative of the department’s performance because it was operating under COVID-19 pandemic procedures at the time. 

GAO notes in the report that the federal government is overhauling its vetting process and is planning to complete implementation of a single vetting system by fiscal 2028. 

The watchdog conducted the report and delivered it to members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee following concerns about “the consistency and transparency of DHS’ vetting processes.”

GAO in January published recommendations to improve the transfer of personnel security clearances and other vetting determinations. Specific to DHS, it issued a report in 2023 on hiring and staffing gaps at the Federal Emergency Management Agency and is currently reviewing U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s recruitment, hiring and retention for law enforcement personnel.