Watchdog: DHS needs to keep a closer eye on acquisition qualifications

The Department of Homeland Security needs to be consistent in nominating and designating acquisition oversight officials.

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The Department of Homeland Security needs to better insure its designated acquisition executives are qualified for their jobs, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

Of five component acquisition executives working within the overarching management directorate at DHS and some component agencies, four had not been submitted to a formal nomination and designation process that would insure their qualifications for doing the job, according to the report.

Component acquisition executives (CAEs) are a critical link in the acquisition chain for DHS and its component agencies, according to the report. They are the senior acquisition officials within components with management responsibilities for major and non-major component agency acquisitions.

The Management Directorate sits at the DHS department level and has five such senior officials to support operational components.

The GAO said in the report issued on Oct. 20 that some components had set processes to formally nominate and designate CAEs to vet job qualifications against agency benchmarks and set qualifications but have not uniformly followed through on nominating and qualifying their CAEs.

Without that qualifying nomination and designation process, DHS has no uniform, reliable way to look at CAE candidates' backgrounds to find weaknesses in experience that could be addressed, said GAO.

As an example, the report mentioned the CAE for the Coast Guard had been duly nominated and designated, but did not have adequate acquisition experience typically needed for such a position. The Coast Guard, said GAO, saw the gap and said in its nominating documentation that more experienced acquisition staff would support the CAE.

However, GAO there isn't a reliable way to check to see if the Coast Guard is taking adequate steps to insure the candidate was getting help from more experienced acquisition staff.

The GAO recommended the undersecretary for management at DHS to take steps to insure component heads follow the formal nomination and designation process and recommended that agency's Office of Program Accountability and Risk Management set a time frame to complete a study on CAE-related data fields on its Investment Evaluation, Submission, and Tracking (INVEST) system that traces DHS acquisitions, IT investments and performance information.

The report found that INVEST data to certify information on programs, including the current acquisition life-cycle phases, total life-cycle cost estimates, and related contracts' descriptions, was not used uniformly by component CAEs. That uneven use of the data, it said, limits its usefulness in DHS's internal and external acquisition reporting. INVEST is under consideration for use as the system-of-record for DHS acquisitions. DHS agreed with the report's recommendation and said it expects to have the implemented by the close of fiscal year 2021.

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