The New York Times reports that the department's inspector general finds Homeland Security "has made significant progress in addressing all of its management challenges," but needs more work on staffing, training, technology and border protection.
Those changes will take years, the report found.
The report emerged as a federal commission wrestled with the question of what might have been done to prevent the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks — the event that led to the formation of the Homeland Security Department.
At a, CIA director George Tenet warned of future strikes.
"It's coming," he said. "They're still going to try and do it."
Meanwhile, theworldwide of a heightened risk of terrorist attack after Israel killed the founder of the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas. And the FBI alerted petroleum facilities on the Texas Gulf Coast that it may be the target of a vague threat.
A spokesman for the Homeland Security Department said the inspector general's findings demonstrate "significant progress."
But the look back at Sept. 11, the new warnings and the inspector general's report raise questions about whether the United States is prepared enough for a possible terrorist plot.
"This administration is not doing all it can to keep America as safe as it needs to be," said Rep. Jim Turner, D-Texas, told The Times. "I agree with the department's independent inspector that much has been done to make this country safer, but this is not good enough."
Indeed, the report found that air and sea security was at its strongest ever. However, financing problems have delayed an effort to integrate fingerprint databases, and there are "significant problems" finding and deporting foreigners who have overstayed their visas. Poor management was blamed for hiring thousands of airport screeners without the proper background checks — including 85 convicted felons.
The department's chief information officer, Steven I. Cooper, told a trade show audience on Wednesday that the technology needs are fairly simple: the ability, for example, to send classified e-mails, reports the Washington Post.
Meanwhile, security was tight early Thursday at petrochemical plants along the Gulf of Mexico following a caution issued by the FBI.
An agency spokesman said the Texas Coastal Regional Advisory System, a communications system that is part of the Houston Joint Terrorism Task Force, was notified of nonspecific threats gathered from overseas sources.
"It's really uncorroborated, but there was enough there we thought it was best to send something out across TCRAS," said Bob Dogium, the Houston-area spokesman for the FBI.
There was no indication of an immediate or direct threat against any of the facilities that dot the Texas Gulf Coast, he said.
"Really, in the days after 9-11, the best weapon we have is communication," said Dogium. "There is really a good communication link between the various (law enforcement and security) agencies on matters of security."
But he told the Texas City Sun that the threat was "very, very vague at best."
Jason Hayley, head of security for the Port of Texas City, said he appreciates updates from TCRAS.
"We are always vigilant in our security measures, but it's good to know when there is something else to be on the look out for," he said. "We've been in touch with the FBI."