Congress puts hold on DHS projects

Concerned about the management of major programs, Congress placed a temporary hold on hundreds of millions of dollars allocated for several large projects at the Homeland Security Department until certain conditions for improvements are met.

Congress' detailed instructions were included in the continuing resolution signed by President Bush last week that included fiscal 2009 appropriations for DHS.

For example, of the $1 billion approved for the Coast Guard's Integrated Deepwater Systems ship replacement program, $550 million is being withheld pending submission of an expenditure plan, among other items. Similarly, of $775 million approved for the Secure Border Initiative, which includes the SBInet high-tech surveillance system along with physical fencing and vehicle barriers, $400 million is to be withheld pending submission of detailed progress report and plans.

In addition, $217 million is being held from the $317 expenditure for Customs and Border Protection's Automated Commercial Environment, and $75 million is being held back from the $300 million allotted for the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology that collects fingerprints from foreign visitors.

To release the money, department officials must take several steps, in most cases submitting additional information on expenditures, life cycle planning, costs, personnel, schedules, budgets and other aspects.

Congress also is asking for certifications from DHS' chief procurement officer, chief information officer and chief human capital officer on aspects such as whether the programs meet investment goals, whether they are aligned with departmental computer enterprise architecture and whether workforce needs are being properly managed, respectively.

For the Secure Border Initiative, department officials must provide an analysis of each 15-mile segment of the U.S. land borders, including a cost/benefit analysis of alternatives for achieving operational control and a list of possible unintended consequences on border communities, according to the text of a congressional report attached to the legislation.

The appropriations for SBI includes $30 million for a Border Interoperability Demonstration and $40 million for a Northern Border project.

For Deepwater, the department must identify a competition strategy and explain each indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract. The congressional report also requests that Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff amend the acquisition authority for Deepwater.

"Due to the Coast Guard's failure to adequately oversee the Deepwater program, the Secretary shall rescind the delegation of acquisition authority to the Coast Guard Directorate in order to keep oversight with the Office of the Chief Procurement Officer, as recommended by the Government Accountability Office," the report states.

For US-VISIT Congress stipulated that there shall be no expenditures for the air exit portion until pilot projects are conducted at airports. Those tests are to be conducted with the airlines collecting biometric data, and also with the department collecting the biometric data, the congressional report states.

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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