GAO hits U.S. Visit contract oversight

The U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology program should strengthen its oversight of the contracts it is using to build a computerized border control system, federal auditors said in an analysis of the multibillion-dollar Homeland Security Department project.

In a recent report titled "Contract Management and Oversight for Visitor and Immigrant Status Program Need to be Strengthened," the Government Accountability Office stated that U.S. Visit's program office does not know the full extent of the project's contract actions and has not established proper financial controls. As a result, U.S. Visit lacks reliable information about its own contract spending and spending by other DHS agencies that carry out project work.

"Without these controls, some [DHS] agencies were unable to reliably report US Visit contracting expenditures," according to the report. "Further[more], the program office and these other agencies improperly paid and accounted for related invoices, including making duplicate payments and payments for non-U.S. Visit services with funds designated for U.S. Visit," according to the report.

Until the U.S. Visit program adopts proper financial controls, program officials will not know whether program deliverables and mission results are being produced on time and within budget, the auditors said.

U.S. Visit program officials took issue with the auditors' findings in a response letter that ran to several hundred words and covered several issues the GAO auditors raised.

For example, the DHS officials rejected a GAO assertion that the U.S. Visit program had provided two payments for a $3 million invoice from the project's prime contractor, Accenture. The letter from Steven J. Pecinovsky, the program's liaison to GAO, stated that the apparent double payment was "at least partially caused by a communication problem" and U.S. Visit officials later noticed and reversed the mistake.

GAO also noted that in another overpayment case involving a group of smaller sums, vendors had caught the errors before U.S. Visit officials found them. Pecinovsky's letter stated that DHS officials detected the second group of problems independently and shortly after the vendors found them.

The GAO report stated that several types of contractor controls required by federal regulations had been partly or fully adopted by the central U.S. Visit program office and its partner agencies, such as the General Services Administration, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Architect-Engineer Resource Center, the Transportation Security Administration and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The central U.S. Visit program office, for example, had adopted all but five of 22 required contracting practices by the end of fiscal 2005. DHS' partner agencies had adopted a smaller proportion of the required practices by that time, according to the report.

The report said the U.S. Visit program office's financial controls buttressed the project's ability to oversee work carried out by contractors to that central office. But the auditors warned that poor oversight of the partner agencies' contracting hindered DHS' ability to assure proper and efficient resource use by the partner agencies.

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