Twenty-two Department of Homeland Security (DHS) programs reviewed by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) were found to be “on track to meet the initial schedule and cost parameters established after DHS’s current acquisition policy went into effect in November 2008,” but 14 programs have experienced schedule slips, or schedule slips and cost growth, including five programs GAO reviewed because they were at-risk of poor outcomes and nine others.
Of the 22 DHS programs GAO reviewed, only two were likely to meet initial schedule and cost parameters in DHS’s current acquisition policy. “In addition,” GAO reported, “14 of the 22 programs encountered schedule slips. Seven of those also saw cost growth by an estimated $9.7 billion or 18 percent.
GAO said it “was unable to assess six programs because DHS leadership had not yet approved baselines establishing their schedules and cost estimates even though these baselines are required by DHS policy.”
“Each year, DHS invests billions of dollars in major acquisition programs,” GAO said. “In fiscal year 2014, DHS planned to invest $10.7 billion in these programs. DHS’s acquisition management activities have been on GAO’s High Risk List, in part due to program management, funding, workforce and requirements issues.”
Congress requested GAO assess DHS’s major acquisition programs to ensure they are on track to meet their schedules and cost estimates; have successfully completed operational testing; and are facing common issues department-wide.
In September 2012, GAO recommended DHS ensure all programs obtain department-level approval for their baselines. DHS concurred.
“The 22 programs are at different stages of operational testing, and assessments did not always address the key performance parameters (KPP) required to meet the DHS mission,” GAO reported in an audit it just released. “Nineteen of the programs had delivered capabilities to operators; DHS’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation had assessed operational test results for 13 of these programs; and six had passed the testing. One of these six programs did not meet all of its KPPs, and it was unclear whether two of the other programs had done so because the test assessments did not explicitly address the KPPs.”
GAO said it “found such ambiguity in 11 of 30 test assessments DHS produced from 2010 to 2014,” adding that, “The risks and benefits of deploying capability without operational testing vary on a program-by-program basis. However, when programs do conduct operational testing, DHS leadership would be better informed to make deployment decisions if it consistently received documentation clearly stating whether systems have met all of their KPPs.
DHS is taking steps to address enduring challenges, GAO said, “but certain issues may hinder oversight. DHS acquisition programs continue to face staffing, funding and requirements issues, which increase the likelihood that acquisition programs’ schedules will slip and costs will grow.”
GAO said, “DHS leadership has taken steps to address these challenges. In response to a prior GAO recommendation, DHS established that it would specifically address funding issues during all program reviews. However, it will likely take years to fully resolve the challenges.”
Additionally, GAO found certain issues were prevalent at particular components. Both of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) programs reviewed had “changed their scope significantly over time, but these changes are not clearly identified in their current baselines, making it difficult to assess how well the programs have been executed. In fiscal year 2014, the funding plans DHS presented to Congress for the US Coast Guard acquisition programs were incomplete, obscuring affordability issues GAO has reported on since 2011. These component-specific issues make it more challenging for DHS leadership and Congress to exercise oversight.
The chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security Subcommittee on Oversight and Management Efficiency recently expressed harsh criticism of DHS’s department-wide acquisition processes during an acquisition oversight hearing on how effectively DHS is safeguarding taxpayer dollars.
“A broken acquisition process delivers tools that are late, cost more and do less than anticipated. Watchdogs continue to find failures in DHS’s management of its acquisitions, which is unacceptable and puts taxpayer dollars at risk," said subcommittee chairman Scott Perry (R-Pa.).
“Each year, DHS invests billions of dollars in its major acquisition programs to help execute its many critical missions. In fiscal year 2014 alone, DHS planned to spend almost $11 billion on these acquisition programs, and the department expects it will ultimately invest more than $200 billion in them,” Michele Mackin, director of Acquisition and Sourcing Management at the Government Accountability Office (GAO), told Perry’s subcommittee.
"As GAO recognized, we have already taken significant steps to improve acquisition management, such as dedicating additional resources to acquisition oversight and documenting major acquisition decisions in a more transparent and consistent manner," Acting Deputy Under Secretary Chip Fulghum told the subcommittee. "In addition, we are in the process of making policy changes in Management Directive (MD) 102-01 based on GAO’s recommendations in a September 2012 report. These ongoing efforts highlight the department’s commitment to better acquisition and resource management."
This past year, Fulghum said, DHS conducted 24 Acquisition Review Boards (ARB) to closely examine its high-risk acquisition programs. "During these ARBs, substantive decisions were made that significantly influenced the performance of these programs," he said.
"Based on my experience,” Fulghum said, “DHS’s acquisition process— and this is a key tenet of what the secretary is driving us towards — is if you get it right up front, you’re going to be able to deliver. So, in other words, if you get the requirements upfront correctly and they’re well-defined with operator input and you get the right mission-needs statement, the right operational requirements document, you get a well-defined requirement, you’llget a better cost estimate, you’ll get more reliable budgets and then you’ll be able to proceed through the acquisition process."
Mackin said “DHS’s policies, as we’ve said for many years, are sound … It’s a matter of following them in practice."
Editor’s note: For more on DHS’s acquisition programs, issues and problems, see the recent Homeland Security Today report, House HS Subcommittee Takes Hard Look at DHS’s Procurement Processes.