Vendors defend DHS contracting practices

But lawmakers most likely will continue probes

Defense contractors, information technology providers and industry observers say they have issues with a new House Government Reform Committee report that criticizes the Homeland Security Department’s procurement methods and contracting practices as being rife with “significant overcharges, wasteful spending and mismanagement.”

Investigators, including the Government Accountability Office, identified 32 DHS contracts that had “major problems in administration or performance.” The department awarded the contracts in the past five years, and they are worth $34.3 billion. But industry officials say the report is overkill.

Bob Guerra, a partner at Guerra Kiviat, said DHS is doing much better than it did when it became operational in March 2003. The department is improving its procurement processes and has a greater level of discipline in the process, Guerra said. “It’s just taken time to get the organization together.”

Scot Edwards, chief marketing officer at GTSI, said that because DHS has combined 22 agencies, it has a broad, overarching influence. “The more they get a handle on things, the better off we’ll all be,” Edwards said, adding that industry tries to see past the problems outlined in the DHS report.

Contractors may be turning a blind eye to the agency’s criticism because DHS has increased spending 189 percent since its creation in response to the 2001 terrorist attacks. In fiscal 2003, DHS awarded 14,000 contracts worth $3.5 billion, according to the report. By fiscal 2005, the department had awarded 63,000 contracts worth $10 billion. That increase was 11 times faster than the remainder of federal discretionary spending, the report states.

“It’s impossible to do everything perfect the first time,” said Mark Zelinger, president and founder of Zelinger Associates, a business development and federal marketing services company. When you quickly put together an agency as diverse and as large as DHS, “you’re going to get some mistakes,” he said.

Zelinger added that DHS has done a remarkably good job in its short existence, despite some evident problems.

Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), the committee’s chairman, said acquisition dysfunction best describes DHS’ procurement processes, and ranking member Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said DHS has a pattern of reckless spending.

But Phil Kiviat, a partner at Guerra Kiviat, said the DHS criticism exemplifies the common adversarial relationship between agencies and congressional committees. Such inquiries are common, he added. “If you make progress, it’s not as good as being finished,” he said. “Therefore, it’s [considered] a deficiency.”

At a July 27 hearing called by Davis and Waxman, Michael Sullivan, director of acquisition and sourcing management at GAO, said DHS’ problem is a lack of internal controls and oversight of its procurement processes.

Elaine Duke, chief procurement officer at DHS, cited several steps DHS is taking to fix its procurement problems, including a centralized recruiting system for hiring contracting officers, a request for funding in the fiscal 2007 budget to hire 200 additional procurement officials, and new oversight and management directives.

DHS operates in a rapid acquisition environment, Duke added. “It must prioritize acquisition planning, beyond that generally expected of an agency that does not have emergency response as a primary responsibility, to ensure that decisions are made properly and timely.”

Waxman told reporters after the session that the committee would examine the testimony and possibly call more hearings in the fall to examine specific contracts. He did not say whether the committee would call any contractors.

Click here to enlarge chart (.pdf).


About the Author

David Hubler is the former print managing editor for GCN and senior editor for Washington Technology. He is freelance writer living in Annandale, Va.

The Fed 100

Save the date for 28th annual Federal 100 Awards Gala.


  • computer network

    How Einstein changes the way government does business

    The Department of Commerce is revising its confidentiality agreement for statistical data survey respondents to reflect the fact that the Department of Homeland Security could see some of that data if it is captured by the Einstein system.

  • Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Army photo by Monica King. Jan. 26, 2017.

    Mattis mulls consolidation in IT, cyber

    In a Feb. 17 memo, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told senior leadership to establish teams to look for duplication across the armed services in business operations, including in IT and cybersecurity.

  • Image from

    DHS vague on rules for election aid, say states

    State election officials had more questions than answers after a Department of Homeland Security presentation on the designation of election systems as critical U.S. infrastructure.

  • Org Chart Stock Art - Shutterstock

    How the hiring freeze targets millennials

    The government desperately needs younger talent to replace an aging workforce, and experts say that a freeze on hiring doesn't help.

  • Shutterstock image: healthcare digital interface.

    VA moves ahead with homegrown scheduling IT

    The Department of Veterans Affairs will test an internally developed scheduling module at primary care sites nationwide to see if it's ready to service the entire agency.

  • Shutterstock images (honglouwawa & 0beron): Bitcoin image overlay replaced with a dollar sign on a hardware circuit.

    MGT Act poised for a comeback

    After missing in the last Congress, drafters of a bill to encourage cloud adoption are looking for a new plan.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group