DHS continues to face acquisition management hurdles

The Government Accountability Office released a new report Wednesday that says the Homeland Security Department is making progress on acquisition reform, but it still has a long way to go.

Of the 22 DHS programs the GAO reviewed, only two were likely to meet initial schedule and cost parameters in DHS’ current acquisition policy. In addition, 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 was unable to evaluate the remaining six programs because DHS leadership failed to approve baseline schedules or cost estimates, something the agency’s own policy requires it to do.

“DHS is taking steps to address enduring challenges, but certain issues may hinder oversight,” the report said. “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. 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.”

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Chip Fulghum, the acting deputy under secretary at DHS, appeared on Capitol Hill Wednesday and acknowledged the hurdles his agency continues to face when it comes to cost and schedule parameters.

“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,” Fulghum told the House Committee on Homeland Security, Subcommittee on Oversight and Management Efficiency, in his written statement. “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.”

Over the past 12 months, DHS conducted 24 Acquisition Review Boards (ARB) to look at its higher-risk acquisition programs.

“During these ARBs, substantive decisions were made that significantly influenced the performance of these programs,” said Fulghum, who chaired 13 of the ARBs.

According to Fulghum’s written testimony, DHS made these decisions based on the ARBs:

  • Three programs were authorized and entered the deployment phase — the Coast Guard’s National Security Cutter and National Automated Identification System; the Transportation Security Administration’s Electronic Baggage Screening Program; and TSA’s Passenger Screening Program for Explosive Trace Detection.
  • DHS cancelled the Office of Health Affairs’ BioWatch 3.
  • New development on FEMA’s Logistics Supply Chain Management System was halted to allow assessment of its operational capability and capability gaps.
  • The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Transformation and ICE TECS Modernization (MOD) programs were taken off of breach status.
  • TSA’s Technology Infrastructure Modernization Program was stopped to allow TSA to conduct a re-baseline of the Surface and Aviation segments and update acquisition documentation and strategy.
  • Customs and Border Protection’s Strategic Air Marine Program was brought into compliance with MD-102.
  • The Coast Guard’s Medium Range Surveillance Program will re-baseline costs for the HC-144 and the C 27J aircraft that were transferred from the Air Force.

In April 2014, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson introduced his Unity of Effort management philosophy, part of which dealt with improving DHS’ acquisition management.

“Based on my experience, DHS’ 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,” Fulghum said. “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’ll get a better cost estimate, you’ll get more reliable budgets and then you’ll be able to proceed through the acquisition process.”

DHS has been hampered by a lack of a strong requirements process, something he said Johnson is working on fixing. He pointed to the standing up of the Joint Requirements Council as an important milestone for the agency.

“It is up and running and it has actually approved its first joint operational requirements document,” Fulghum said. “It’s got a lot more work to do. We need to get the governance underneath it in place.”

Michele Mackin, director of acquisition and sourcing management at GAO and the author of the most recent report, told the subcommittee that she thinks DHS is moving in the right direction when it comes improving its acquisition management.

“The policies, as we’ve said for many years, are sound,” she said. “It’s a matter of following them in practice.”

Based on the findings of GAO’s most recent report, Mackin was “cautiously optimistic” about DHS’ progress. Her office, for example, has been calling for a reformulation of the JRC since 2008. Now that it’s in place, she’s eager to see an output.

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