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DHS’s Human Resources Information Technology ‘Neglected’

DHS’s Human Resources Information Technology ‘Neglected’ Homeland Security TodayOver the past 12 years, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has made very little progress in implementing its Human Resources Information Technology (HRIT), a program that has received at least $180 million from Congress, according to a recent report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

DHS’s human resources system has been fragmented since the Department’s creation in 2002. At the time, GAO expressed concern that the Department would experience significant management challenges in attempting to merge 22 agencies into one department with eight components.

Hampered by duplicative and paper-based processes, DHS initiated the HRIT investment with the intent to consolidate, integrate, and modernize the department’s human resources IT infrastructure. However, DHS is no closer to improving its human capital system today than it was 12 years ago atthe launch of the program.

In 2010, for example, DHS’s Office of Inspector General reported that HRIT had failed to achieve any meaningful progress; in fact, in 2011, DHS identified over 400 human capital systems and applications still in use. These issues are preventing DHS from effectively carrying out its mission.

In response, the House Committee on Homeland Security’s Oversight and Management Efficiency Subcommittee held a hearing last week regarding DHS’s failure to oversee and update key human capital systems and processes. In his opening remarks, Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) commented.

“Let’s pause to think about this; DHS has no idea how $180 million appropriated by the people’s representatives in Congress have been spent, which is reprehensible and unacceptable. If businesses managed their budgets this way, they would be out of business. As a result of this botched management, DHS’s systems remain outdated, inefficient, and at high risk to future waste.”

Perry called HRIT a “poster child for inept management.” Not only do 95 percent of the key HRIT strategic projects remain unfinished –with only one out of the 15 initial upgrades completed—today, DHS has no idea when or if these projects will be finished. Furthermore, in addition to failing to maintain a schedule for these projects, DHS officials did not estimate the total costs of HRIT and failed to track how much has been spent to date.

GAO noted that HRIT’s limited progress was also due in part to the lack of involvement of its executive steering committee—the investment’s core oversight and advisory body—which only met once in almost two years, despite the occurrence of major issues, such as scheduling delays.

The auditors stated, “Officials acknowledged that HRIT should be reevaluated and took early steps to do so (i.e., meeting to discuss the need to reevaluate); however, specific actions and time frames have not been determined. Until DHS takes key actions to re-evaluate and manage this neglected investment, it is unknown when its human capital weaknesses will be addressed.”

However, DHS stated that the Department has been successful in implementing its Performance and Learning Management System (PALMS), a system for managing department-wide employee performance and learning. The program is designed to automate DHS’s paper-based performance management processes, as well as consolidate the nine existing learning management systems into one systems capable of comprehensive training reporting and analysis across the Department.

Although DHS touts PALMS as a “success story,” GAO found that PALMS needs to address weaknesses in its project planning, project monitoring, and risk management practices.

“DHS was again reckless with taxpayer money by not fully estimating the costs, tracking total costs, developing a sufficient schedule, or monitoring risks to the project,” Perry asserted. “DHS will have to continue to use cumbersome, time-consuming, and paper-based processes to manage the performance and training of its workforce. Without a more robust process for documenting employee performance, managers face significant hurdles in removing poor performers.”

According to the testimony of Chip Fulghum, Deputy Under Secretary for Management at DHS, during the deployment of PALMS in the fourth quarter of 2014, DHS Chief Information Officer Luke McCormack asked to slow down implementation in order to addressunexpected challenges with the contract.

Since addressing these concerns, the training portion of the PALMS system has been successfully deployed at Customs and Border Protection in July 2015; DHS Headquarters Components in October 2015; and most recently at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in December 2015.

In total there are over 350 thousand learning management system course completions. Fulghum said, “Continuing the HRIT investment is critical to reducing redundancies and increasing the efficient and effective functionality of human resources systems across the Enterprise.”

DHS concurred with all 14 recommendations provided by GAO to address HRIT’s limited progress. The Department has also provided estimated completion dates for implementing each of these recommendations.

Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.), ranking member of the Subcommittee, said this should be a wakeup call highlighting the need to “standardize and document” moving forward.

Fulghum said DHS is committed to making progress in the coming months.

Perry responded, “On behalf of the American taxpayer, I hope you are right, sir.”

 

 

Homeland Security Todayhttp://www.hstoday.us
The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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