Rothwell: DHS needs more acquisition staff

The biggest challenge for chief acquisition officers governmentwide is either rebuilding or growing their workforce, the Homeland Security Department's chief acquisition officer said today.

DHS is working to hire and attract a new workforce to replace a large percentage of DHS procurement employees who have been downsized or who are retiring over the next five years, said Greg Rothwell at the Excellence in Government Conference in Washington, D.C.

This is needed to ensure that there are enough federal employees to sign off on public projects and not hand that authority to the private sector, Rothwell said.

DHS has 115 Tier 1 programs that cost more than $100 million each, but only 18 of those programs have certified project managers, Rothwell said. DHS has created a project manager certification program through Defense Acquisition University that will become mandatory in a few years for all managers of Tier 1 programs, he said.

More people are also needed to handle the massive number of expensive programs DHS operates, particularly IT programs, Rothwell said. DHS’ Office of the CIO is the procurement office’s biggest customer, he said. DHS’ fiscal 2006 budget, $13 billion is procured and $6 billion of that is IT spending, he said.

DHS’ procurement office has five goals, Rothwell said. The first is getting itself up and running. Rothwell now has permission to increase the size of his office to 127 people in fiscal 2006 and 220 in fiscal 2007, he said.

Building an IT acquisition center to centralize buying decisions is the second goal, Rothwell said. In Creating the office will give DHS’ CIO much more control over the department’s IT spending, he said.

DHS has already created an IT Commodity Council through which the deputy CIOs of all DHS agencies can decide on what products to buy, Rothwell said. “Through the acquisition process, you can drive standards,” he said.

Getting DHS’ eight separate procurement offices to act as one is the third goal, Rothwell said. Rothwell has direct authority over only one, the Office of Procurement Operations that oversees procurements for the 35 new offices specifically created for DHS, he said.

Rothwell’s office is responsible for $2.2 billion in spending – more than the Environmental Protection Agency or the Commerce Department – without a single full-time equivalent employee, he said. He works with the other seven through a chief acquisition officer council, he said.

Getting the word out to the private sector about what DHS procurement is doing is the fourth goal, and increasing hiring is the fifth, Rothwell said. The eight procurement offices are working on a centralized recruiting program to distribute applicants according to their personal interests, Rothwell said.

DHS doesn’t want the private sector concerns about legal liability to stymie development of new anti-terrorism technologies for the department to buy, Rothwell said. The Support Anti-terrorism by Fostering Effective Technologies (SAFETY) Act of 2002 is intended to shield companies from liability lawsuits if their products fail during a terrorist attack. But many companies have declined to apply for Safety Act protections because the certification process is burdensome and slow.

DHS acquisition officials are willing to work with companies to get their new technologies to market if the companies are worried about indemnity, Rothwell said. Laws other than the SAFETY Act exist that can protect them, he said.

The position of chief acquisition officer is new, dating only to 2003, but provides tremendous procurement advantages, Rothwell said.

“It gives you a place at the table when important decisions are made,” Rothwell said. Procurement executives historically have reported to chief financial officers, he said.


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