A report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, says the Department of Homeland Security has failed to meet half its performance expectations since it was established in 2003. The report was presented to a Senate panel Thursday, as VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.

Congress created the Homeland Security Department in response to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.

Just days before the sixth anniversary of the attacks, the Government Accountability Office sent Congress its assessment of how well the department has been performing. GAO Comptroller General David Walker offered a mixed picture in testimony before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee:

"There were 171 different performance expectations of which we judged that 78 were generally achieved, 83 generally not achieved, and 10 that we did not assess."

The GAO says the Homeland Security Department made the least progress toward some of the fundamental goals set after the 2001 attacks, including improving emergency preparedness and eliminating bureaucratic and technical barriers to information sharing.

The GAO finds moderate progress made in such areas as immigration enforcement, transportation security, and securing critical infrastructure, including bridges and power plants.

The report says the only area where significant progress has been achieved has been in maritime security.

Lawmakers expressed concern that the department has not done more. "The department must pick up the pace of its progress," said Senator Susan Collins, a Maine Republican.

But Homeland Security Department Undersecretary for Management Paul Schneider defended his agency's record and took issue with the way the GAO study was conducted. "While we were pleased that the GAO recognized our progress, the department continues to believe that they used a flawed methodology in preparing its report, which resulted in many of the assessments not fully reflecting the department's progress," he said.

Senator Joe Lieberman, who chairs the committee and calls himself an independent Democrat, asked Comptroller General Walker whether the Homeland Security Department should be credited for the fact that the United States has not had another attack since 2001.

Walker responded by saying, "I have always been very uncomfortable with anybody who wants to assert that because we haven't had another terrorist attack that that automatically means we have done a great job, and we have done everything we should do."

The Senate panel has scheduled another hearing Monday to assess the terrorist threat to the United States. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and the Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell are expected to testify.