GAO: Lack of clear policy impairs DHS acquisition

Despite heightened scrutiny of its contracting practices, the Homeland Security's chief procurement office has made only modest progress in achieving its objectives to date, according to a Government Accountability Office audit of the department.

The massive 328-page GAO review was published yesterday offering a broad critique of the department's management. Acquisition management was one of 14 areas receiving a performance rating from the GAO.

In recent months, Congress has been investigating delays and technical concerns related to the department's $24 billion Deepwater boat acquisition for the Coast Guard and the $8 billion Secure Border Initiative Network surveillance system contract for the U.S. land borders.

The acquisition function has met one out of three key objectives, receiving a "modest" grade overall, GAO concluded. While DHS has assessed and organized its acquisition functions, it did not meet the requirements to develop clear and transparent policies for all acquisitions and to develop an acquisition workforce to meet its needs.

GAO criticized DHS' lack of policies and shortcomings in investment reviews in 2005, including pointing to a lack of critical management reviews to ensure that the design of a product or solution conforms to expectations before money is spent. While some revisions to the investment review process are expected to go into effect in the first quarter of fiscal 2008, the chief procurement officer has not yet provided details on how all the identified gaps will be addressed, GAO said.

Furthermore, despite some improvements, the chief procurement office still is running short on manpower. The chief procurement officer has received approval to hire 25 additional staff members in fiscal 2007, and has requested another 25 staff members in fiscal 2008, saying those additional personnel would complete the necessary staffing and oversight functions.

However, GAO said workforce objectives have not been met. "DHS has much work to fill approved positions and has not corrected workload imbalances among component organizations," the GAO report said.

On a positive note, DHS has made progress organizing and planning its acquisitions. But there still is work remaining in aligning central and component acquisitions, the GAO concluded.

"DHS' existing policy of dual accountability between the component heads and the chief procurement officer leaves unclear the chief procurement officer's authority to enforce corrective actions to achieve the department's acquisition goals," GAO wrote.

DHS officials generally agreed with GAO's analysis of its acquisition management.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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