DHS not on track to deliver large-scale tech improvements

The Homeland Security Department will likely miss its 2015 deadline for modernizing the system it uses to screen foreigners entering the U.S.

By Ellen Kortesoja
Federal News Radio

The Homeland Security Department will likely miss its 2015 deadline for modernizing the system it uses to screen foreigners entering the U.S.

The Government Accountability Office released a report showing that DHS’ system improvement efforts, TECS Modernization (TECS Mod), are not meeting cost estimates and progression milestones.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the two main agencies using the existing TECS, are each working on TECS Mod systems that are individualized to their needs. Neither agency’s system improvements appear to be on track to meet the 2015 deadline, according to GAO.

CBP is revising its cost baseline and schedule for its portion of TECS Mod, which was previously estimated at $724 million. For that reason, CBP does not have a completed master schedule and its completion date is unknown. So far, CBP reports that two out of five capability goals are operational within its project components of TECS Mod.

CBP’s non-operational projects are expected to be completed in March 2015. However, with a changing cost baseline and multiple scheduling revisions, the completion of all projects is uncertain. CBP program officials contend that scheduling ambiguities stem from a lack of trained staff, saying that only two employees have the skills to oversee schedules.

ICE saw early technical difficulties with TECS Mod in 2012 and scrapped everything to start over. The ICE program manager brought the program before an executive steering committee, which decided its status was not viable for ICE’s use. Development work has stopped, but may start back up this month. The first cost projection for ICE’s TECS Mod was $818 million, but now its end date and final cost estimate are unknown.

System rollout and cost estimate uncertain

“After spending millions of dollars and over four years on TECS modernization, it is unclear when it will be delivered and at what cost,” said Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Although Coburn commends DHS for implementing best practices, “this report shows that the Department has significant work to do in order to translate them into results,” he said.

The current system, TECS, formerly known as the Treasury Enforcement Communications System, is used to prevent terrorism, share information and provide case management and intelligence capabilities for agencies and agency components.

The current TECS system became too costly to maintain because of outdated technology, and no longer represented DHS’ mission, GAO said. Problems included users having to go to multiple places within the system just to document one encounter with a traveler. CBP also found search algorithms that could not match traveler names with characters from foreign alphabets.

TECS is a multifaceted program interfacing more than 80 systems. More than 700,000 people use it daily, and it screens about 900,000 visitors and 465,000 vehicles. TECS conducts more than 2 million transaction per day.

GAO concluded that both CBP and ICE needed to do a better job managing risk and key requirements throughout the TECS Mod improvements. GAO also said that DHS’ governing bodies overseeing the TECS Mod projects relied on incomplete and inaccurate information. The auditors recommended that DHS make a comprehensive TECS Mod master schedule and revise guidance on risk and requirements management. DHS agreed with almost all of GAO’s recommendations.

DHS disagreed with GAO’s claim that CBP’s program schedules are not visible enough and reflective of program activities. DHS also noted that GAO did not give adequate appreciation for the elements of the TECS Mod system that are already operational.

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