DHS has too many buying chiefs

Lawmakers blame agency’s organization for the contracting problems it faces

Having too many chiefs can lead to confusion, which two lawmakers see happening at the Homeland Security Department, despite assurances from DHS that everyone is working with a clear sense of direction.

The lawmakers focused on two chiefs: DHS’ chief procurement officer and its chief acquisition officer, who also is undersecretary for management. The chief procurement officer oversees DHS’ procurement and contracting functions. The chief acquisition officer monitors acquisition performance and programs, making sure acquisitions are legal.

When it was formed in 2003, DHS combined 22 agencies. Seven of the 22 agencies brought their own contracting shops with them. Those without a specialized shop use the services of DHS’ chief procurement officer.

A DHS management directive in 2004 gave the chief procurement officer oversight and auditing roles departmentwide, but it limited that officer’s authority over the Secret Service and the Coast Guard. However, some lawmakers are concerned that the chief procurement officer, Elaine Duke, has little authority outside of the Office of Procurement Operations.

“This decentralized acquisition organization has proven problematic for the agency,” said Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), chairman of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee’s Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce and the District of Columbia Subcommittee, at a hearing June 7.

Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio), the ranking member, said he had similar concerns about DHS, adding that employees who support federal acquisition programs must know who is in charge.

DHS officials, with a different point of view, testified that the chief procurement officer, chief acquisition officer and officials in individual contracting shops work in tandem and not at cross-purposes.

“Procurement is the actual transaction for goods or services and plays only a part in the overall acquisition process,” said Paul Schneider, DHS’ undersecretary for management. Acquisition starts with identifying a need, developing the requirements and budget to meet that need, contracting with industry to deliver the products and services, and sustaining the delivered system through its life.

Adm. John Currier, the Coast Guard’s assistant commandant for acquisition, said the Coast Guard and DHS have a mutually supportive relationship. Currier added that the chief procurement officer and chief acquisition officer, along with the chief financial officer and the chief information officer, work closely together.

However, a representative of the Government Accountability Office said he was not satisfied with the number of chiefs at DHS.

John Hutton, GAO’s director for acquisition and sourcing management, said DHS has progressed far in its brief history, but its chief procurement office may not have enough authority to effectively oversee procurement departmentwide. The bottom line, Hutton said, is the chief procurement officer needs more authority to make DHS follow its own policies.
DHS’ three acquisition challengesThe Homeland Security Department obligated $15.6 billion in fiscal 2006 to support its large and complex acquisition portfolio. From its beginning in 2003, DHS has worked to create an integrated acquisition organization from 22 separate agencies. Because of that enormous challenge, the Government Accountability Office designated DHS’ transformation as high-risk.

In 2005, GAO summarized a number of DHS’ problems related to acquisition and integration.

1. Problem area: Overall integration.
Challenge: New policy emphasizes need for integrated acquisition organization, but Coast Guard and Secret Service are exempt.

2. Problem area: Dual accountability.
Challenge: Some of the chief procurement officer’s primary duties were given to department heads, creating confusion about who is in charge.

3. Problem area: Chief procurement officer’s oversight staff.
Challenge: Office lacks enough employees to ensure compliance with policies.

— Matthew Weigelt

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