DHS vows greater transparency, evidence building under new statistics office

The new office aims to bring more transparency and evidence-based decision-making to DHS, but it will require the buy-in of the department’s many components.

The Department of Homeland Security is pledging to promote greater transparency and data-driven analysis through the Office of Homeland Security Statistics as part of a bid to centralize statistical activities across all its major missions.

The new organization announced on Thursday will replace and expand on DHS’s Office of Immigration Statistics. While immigration-related data will continue to be a major focus of OHSS, the office will also publish reports on areas ranging from law enforcement use-of-force incidents to cyber attacks on federal networks.

“In establishing this new office, we’ll begin releasing data more quickly, with greater granularity and covering a broader scope of DHS activities,” Marc Rosenblum, executive director of OHSS said, during an inauguration event at DHS headquarters on Thursday. “Simply growing the reporting and data governance that accompanies that will be a big undertaking.”

Robert Silvers, under secretary of homeland security for strategy, policy and plans, said the creation of OHSS is part of “maturing” DHS and going from “ad hoc, to institutionalized and systematic” in its processes.

“We are creating independence and integrity in our data, which is only a good thing for the American people and those who are vested in the responsibility to make very consequential decisions and everything from counterterrorism, cybersecurity, trade and travel facilitation, immigration, and much much more,” Silvers said.

The new office will help bring DHS in line with the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2018, known as the Evidence Act. It requires agencies to make their data accessible and to support their policymaking through statistical evidence.

But DHS’s new office will have to rely on data generated by the department’s many frontline organizations across more than a dozen component agencies and offices. Karin Orvis, chief statistician of the United States, told DHS leaders their participation and coordination to the new office will be “critical” to its success and effectiveness.

“This will be by participating in the development and the implementation of department wide data quality and confidentiality standards and policies, by providing your program data to this new office and working with them to help them understand and unlock the value of that data for evidence building by enabling and supporting them to fulfill their responsibilities of a statistical agency or unit as laid out in the Evidence Act,” Orvis said.

Rosenblum said OHSS plans to work with DHS’s chief data officer on enterprise data standards. They’ll define how operational data will be stored in IT systems, as well as how to translate that information into statistical data. The standards will help trace DHS statistics back to their source, ensuring OHSS reports are accurate, independent and trustworthy, he said.

The office will manage a DHS statistical system of record that will churn out public reports. In the coming weeks, OHSS will publish the first of a new monthly immigration report.

“This is a big step forward for an office that until recently published data annually, a few years late, so we’re really upping our game,” Rosenblum said.

Even as it expands on the former Office of Immigration Statistics, immigration-related data will continue to be a major focus for OHS. Twenty-three out of the 25 data sets the new office has received so far are related to immigration. And the new Migration Analysis Center will be central to collecting data and producing reports on immigration enforcement and migration trends.

But in the coming weeks, OHSS plans to release reports on two non-immigration areas. The first will focus on counterfeit and pirated goods seized by Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The second report will provide data on all use-of-force incidents recorded by DHS law enforcement agencies in fiscal 2022. DHS employs approximately 80,000 law enforcement officers across its various components. Officials say releasing the use-of-force data will help boost transparency and accountability.

By the end of next year, OHSS will also release reports on disaster deployments, airport security operations, maritime response operations, and federal cybersecurity incidents.

“This is just the start of our expansion,” Tom Woermer, branch chief for homeland security response data, said during Thursday’s event. “In the coming years, we will both expand to new domains, such as infrastructure protection, and add additional reports within each of these domains. In addition, as we work across the department to improve data quality and validate historical standards, we will improve these reports to include additional data and statistical analysis when possible.”

The new office’s aim is to become a recognized federal statistical unit under the Evidence Act. Those organizations are recognized by the White House Office of Management and Budget as demonstrating the highest commitments to generating publicly available data and statistics with integrity, objectivity and accuracy.

And Rosenblum said meeting those tenets will bring benefits to DHS leaders as well.

“Everything we do to fulfill the fundamental principles for federal statistical agencies that are outlined in the Evidence Act will further support this mission and further increase the rigor and the consistency of publicly available DHS data,” he said. “We depend on and really have such a strong partnership with the operational components. We’ve really grown that working relationship, and it’s a huge part of what we do, and that we continue to play such a key role in supporting leadership decision making.”

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