DHS to start new review process to improve acquisitions

The Department of Homeland Security will implement an independent technical assessment process for major acquisition systems starting in November, which may help program managers and acquisition officials better understand programs over their life cycles.

The reviews are meant to identify programs’ risks earlier in their life cycles, said Kerry Wilson, a systems engineering program manager in the DHS Science and Technology Directorate.

“This will give the program managers the opportunity to come up with mitigation plans for those risks and it’s going to give them guidance on even conducting technical activities,” Wilson said Oct. 26 at a National Defense Industrial Association conference in Springfield, Virginia.

Wilson said the assessments will also give acquisition decision-makers more objective technical information throughout the life cycle of a program.

The reviews will benefit DHS research and development departments as well by identifying specific areas where technologies are immature and not meeting DHS needs, Wilson said.

The technical assessment process

Assessments will be conducted five times throughout the life cycle, once in the “need phase,” where technical feasibility will be appraised along with ways to infuse R&D into the program. The “analyze and select phase” reviews will focus on technology integration. Finally, the “obtain phase” review will look at design development and production readiness.

The technical assessment process will also review a handful of other categories within the DHS acquisitions.

The process will look into the technology maturity of acquisition elements and what will be needed to mature the technology to the required level if necessary. DHS will review program requirements to make sure they are meeting the needs of the program and meet the threats they were created to counter.

The technical assessment will also look at software and IT.

“In software and IT we are going to look at the business process and make sure it’s aligned with our enterprise architecture and then later on in the acquisition development process … when you have systems that are going through manufacturing we are going to look at quality control … and then we are going to look into design and development,” Wilson said.

Though a cadre of system engineers will perform the tests, they will work with program officers and they must also collaborate with DHS’ program oversight office and the chief information officer.

Unity of Effort

In August, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson asked DHS Science and Technology System Engineering to head the technical assessment initiative.

The new process is part of DHS’ Unity of Effort initiative, which put into place several management approaches similar to the Defense Department.

Unity of Effort set up a joint requirements council to make DHS acquisitions more cost effective.

The council, in part, focuses on how the agency sustains what it buys and tracks those operating costs.

That includes acting as a unifying force to collect common data on acquisition life cycles.

“When you have a unifying effort, we are starting to bring that [data] all together, synthesizing it and at the end of the day, we are comparing apples-to-apples, which has not been necessarily the case in the past, and has been a concerted effort of ours so we can track the costs across components and look at things across the board. As opposed to here’s how it is at one component versus this component, and try to make these decisions,” said Christian Marrone, the DHS chief of staff, back in April.

The technical review process could possibly further that effort and make life cycle acquisition and maintenance more efficient.

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