GAO to DHS: Directorate must avoid favoritism

DHS Needs to Improve Ethics-Related Management Controls for the Science and Technology Directorate

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The Homeland Security Department’s Science and Technology Directorate must enforce more management controls on its senior managers to ensure that they don’t play favorites in awarding research contracts, according to a report the Government Accountability Office issued today.

Under the Intergovernmental Personnel Act (IPA) of 1970, the directorate has temporarily hired experts from national laboratories to run its research and development activities. Those activities are divided into portfolios that managers oversee.

Congress commissioned the report after discovering that some research funds have gone to labs from which the directorate hired managers under IPA, the report states.

The directorate has 16 managers for 18 portfolios, the report states. Seven were hired under IPA, and five came from national laboratories.

In fiscal 2004, 23 percent of the directorate’s $761 million R&D budget –- roughly $175 million –- went to those labs.

“Although the [Science and Technology] Directorate has recently implemented management controls to help protect against conflicts of interest and is currently considering others, more needs to be done,” said George Stalcup, director of strategic issues at GAO.

“In the absence of a process for deciding what entities will implement R&D projects, the role that IPA portfolio managers played has been inconsistent, and the potential exists that they may have unknowingly violated conflict-of-interest laws,” the report states.

DHS officials mostly agreed with GAO’s findings but said no infractions have occurred.

“In no case did [the directorate] find an instance where an IPA –- regardless of assignment –- is specifically directing work to his/her sending institution or, to the best of our knowledge, helping shape requirements which could benefit his/her sending institution,” said Steven Pecinovsky, director of the GAO/Office of Inspector General Liaison at DHS, in a letter to Stalcup.

To fix the problem, GAO recommended that the directorate finalize its R&D process and define and standardize the IPA portfolio managers’ role in it. Those managers should also have regular, specialized ethics training geared to their situation.

The directorate should create a system that documents managers’ decision-making process and an oversight program for ethics-related management controls, the report states.

The directorate should also work with other government oversight bodies to see where waivers of conflict-of-interest laws for certain individuals are appropriate, according to the report.

The only disagreement DHS had with GAO’s report concerned the directorate’s ethics training for IPA employees. DHS’ and the directorate’s general counsels recommended that the directorate provide specialized ethics training for its IPA portfolio managers through Ethicsburg, a training Web site for the directorate’s employees, Pecinovsky said. The directorate has already started the process of updating the Web site, he added.

Until the site is updated, the directorate will issue a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation to IPA employees explaining their particular ethics requirements, Pecinovsky said. It will begin distributing the presentations by Jan. 31, 2006, he added.


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