Gathering more info on DHS' acquisition authority a must

The Homeland Security Department's special acquisition authority appears to be working, but the department needs better data to assess that success, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

Congress granted the special authority ? also known as other transaction authority ? to the department when it was created in 2002. That authority expires this month.

It enables the department's Science and Technology Directorate to procure state-of-the-art technology from contractors that are new to government work and offer advanced technologies needed for homeland security.

GAO auditors found that 44 of the 53 agreements that involved the special authority used nontraditional contractors, and about half of those companies were small businesses.

The directorate's "program managers told us that other transaction authority facilitated the involvement of nontraditional contractors who may have the most innovative solutions to homeland security needs," the Sept. 23 report states.

However, although the department has adopted practices to manage the transactions, it lacks the necessary information to systematically assess whether it is obtaining the full benefits of the authority, GAO officials said.

For example, DHS does not track the amount of funds paid to nontraditional contractors or the nature of the work they performed, and the department's contractor database does not contain information on nontraditional contractors, the GAO report states.

GAO recommended that department officials collect relevant data on agreements created under the other transaction authority and report their findings to Congress. DHS officials agreed with the advice.

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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