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

FCW in Print

In the latest issue: Looking back on three decades of big stories in federal IT.

Featured

  • Anne Rung -- Commerce Department Photo

    Exit interview with Anne Rung

    The government's departing top acquisition official said she leaves behind a solid foundation on which to build more effective and efficient federal IT.

  • Charles Phalen

    Administration appoints first head of NBIB

    The National Background Investigations Bureau announced the appointment of its first director as the agency prepares to take over processing government background checks.

  • Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.)

    Senator: Rigid hiring process pushes millennials from federal work

    Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said agencies are missing out on younger workers because of the government's rigidity, particularly its protracted hiring process.

  • FCW @ 30 GPS

    FCW @ 30

    Since 1987, FCW has covered it all -- the major contracts, the disruptive technologies, the picayune scandals and the many, many people who make federal IT function. Here's a look back at six of the most significant stories.

  • Shutterstock image.

    A 'minibus' appropriations package could be in the cards

    A short-term funding bill is expected by Sept. 30 to keep the federal government operating through early December, but after that the options get more complicated.

  • Defense Secretary Ash Carter speaks at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco

    DOD launches new tech hub in Austin

    The DOD is opening a new Defense Innovation Unit Experimental office in Austin, Texas, while Congress debates legislation that could defund DIUx.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group