WASHINGTON, Jan. 19 (UPI) -- The man President Bush nominated Wednesday to be the new chief financial officer for the Department of Homeland Security faces a steep climb at the troubled agency, where a plan to modernize its financial management systems has stalled.
David Norquist, currently deputy undersecretary of defense for budget and appropriations affairs, and the younger brother of conservative activist and lobbyist Grover Norquist, will replace Andrew Maner, the department's current chief financial officer.
The elder Norquist has been a trenchant critic of some of the department's policies, such as its "No-Fly" list, which he sees as an infringement on personal privacy and liberty.
The nomination was welcomed by lawmakers who have accused the department of foot-dragging over the post.
"One way to cure management problems at the Department of Homeland Security is to enlist leadership from public servants who want to serve the public and lead through examples of integrity, transparency, and accountability," said ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Homeland Security, Bennie Thompson of Mississippi.
Maner will step down March 3, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said in a statement Tuesday. But Norquist's appointment requires Senate confirmation, a process that generally takes a minimum of three months to complete, making it almost certain that there will be a vacancy for a month or more.
And last week, a Beltway trade publication reported the departure of the official responsible for modernizing the tangled and deficient web of often archaic financial management and accounting systems the department inherited from the 22 agencies that were merged into it.
Government Computer News reported Jan. 11 that Catherine Santana had already begun a new job at the Department of Energy.
The modernization project she headed, dubbed Electronically Managing Enterprise Resources for Government Effectiveness and Efficiency, or Emerge2, aims to create a new framework within which the department's different financial management systems can communicate, according to Homeland Security Spokesman Russ Knocke.
"This is not a one size fits all solution," Knocke told United Press International. "The department's components have unique individual requirements (for financial management.) This will be a system that connects the unique financial systems (of those components) to give the department's leadership the consistent financial picture they need."
Observers see Emerge2 as the sine qua non for effective financial management in Homeland Security, which has been hampered by outdated and incompatible accounting systems in its various component agencies to the point where auditors last year found parts of the department had no idea how much money they were spending.
"That has to be job one," said a Democratic congressional staffer of Emerge2. "Nothing that makes sense (in the department's financial management) can happen until that is happening."
But the project has been effectively stalled for some time, according to congressional and industry officials; and a procurement agreement with Homeland Security contracting giant Bearing Point was allowed to expire last year.
Knocke insisted that the department remained committed to Emerge2.
But Norquist, who previously held other financial management posts at the Pentagon and worked for the House Committee on Appropriations, faces an array of other challenges, too, according to lawmakers and congressional staff.
Rep. Todd Platts, R-Penn., who chairs the House subcommittee on government financial management, said in a statement Wednesday that Maner had begun a number of important tasks
Under his leadership, Platts said, the department "has begun to implement the stronger financial controls required ... (and) began the critical task of determining how to streamline and integrate legacy financial systems."
But he cautioned that "Much work remains to be done."
Platt's helped author legislation making the department's chief financial officer a Senate-confirmed post with a direct report to the secretary.
The law -- signed in October 2004 -- was aimed at giving the post-holder enough clout not just to do the complex job of knitting together legacy financial systems, but also to resolve the financial issues bedeviling relations between at least some of the department's components, Platts told UPI in an interview last year.
A series of internal and external audits, for instance, found that at least one element of the department -- U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement -- was effectively shortchanged by the way the department's accounts were put together during the merger.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement -- the part of the department that is responsible for combating arms smuggling and money laundering and is the sole agency that looks for illegal immigrants inside the United States -- had a $500 million hole in its budget as a result, former officials have said.
The financial crisis -- during which the agency had a hiring freeze, a ban on non-essential travel and other stringent emergency measures -- dragged on for almost two years.
The former officials blamed a lack of leadership from Maner, and more particularly his boss, Undersecretary for Management Janet Hale.
Knocke, however, said that one of Maner's "lasting contributions to the department was his success in stabilizing the financial position of" Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Some critics said Maner was effectively made a lame duck when following the legislation which made his post Senate confirmed it became clear that the administration was not going to nominate him for his own job.
Others are concerned that the confirmation process itself is breaking down. Earlier this month, President Bush made recess appointments to two of the department's senior posts after senators blocked their confirmation.
Michael Hettinger, staff director for the Platts subcommittee, which is part of the House Committee on Government Reform, urged a speedy confirmation.
"The important thing now is to move the nominee through the confirmation process as quickly as possible, assuming they are properly qualified," he told UPI.
"The challenges that the department faces are too important to leave this post vacant."
And even with Senate confirmation and a direct report to the secretary, not everyone believes that Norquist has the authority he needs to get the job done.
One issue is that of line authority over the chief financial officers of the component agencies of the department. Critics say that, without such authority, really managing the department's finances is all but impossible.
"Without an organizational structure that works, you can't have a budget that makes sense," said the Democratic staffer.
The final issue critics say Norquist will have to confront is the issue of oversight of departmental spending and acquisition. The department has been dogged by reports of inflated bills from contractors and wasted or misspent tax dollars, and the head of procurement, Greg Rothwell, stepped down last month.
"Maner was not asking tough enough questions about how the money was being spent," said the staffer. "Procurement and financial management are two sides of same coin, unless both are strong, neither will work."