GAO raps INS on contracting

The Immigration and Naturalization Service does not have the oversight and information it needs for effective procurement, according to a newly released General Accounting Office report.

INS became part of the Homeland Security Department on March 1, and its functions are now the purview of the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement in DHS. Ashley Lewis, acting chief procurement officer for the bureau, noted the change but generally agreed with GAO's findings and recommendations in a July 23 response.

The GAO knocks the agency for a variety of weaknesses, including:

* Procurement managers are placed a low level and lack the leverage they need to hold employees accountable for compliance with procurement polices.

* INS/BICE has not made good use of cross-functional teams, resulting in poor coordination of contracting activities.

* The agency's information systems don't provide the agencywide information that procurement managers need in order to make strategic decisions that maximize spending power.

* The agency's acquisition workforce is inadequate to manage large and mission-critical procurements.

GAO carried out the review at the request of Rep. Tom Davis, (R-Va.), chair of the House Government Reform Committee and chief architect of the Services Acquisition Reform Act (SARA). Davis wants Congress to enact measures that would strengthen acquisition workforce training and oversight in each agency.

GAO recommends that DHS executives determine what procurement and financial information they need in order to develop a strategic approach to procurement, and ensure that cross-functional teams are well coordinated. The office also recommended that DHS develop a workforce plan that identifies the number, location and skills of the personnel who make up the acquisition workforce, and identify strategies to recruit and retain the workforce.

DHS generally agreed with the report and is taking steps to improve the situation, according to Lewis's response.

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