GAO urges improvements to DHS' acquisition workforce strategy

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GAO Report

A report released today by the Government Accountability Office makes several recommendations for how the Homeland Security Department could improve its efforts to build a more effective acquisition workforce. DHS obligates billions for goods and services every year.

The GAO said DHS’ recruiting, hiring and training initiatives represented “positive steps toward building and effective acquisition workforce.” However, the efforts were focused primarily on contract specialists and only partially addressed the department’s workforce challenges, the GAO also said.

The GAO said DHS generally lacks documented performance goals and implementation steps for evaluating its current recruiting and hiring initiatives and had not developed a comprehensive strategic plan for the future of its acquisition workforce.

“Even if fully implemented, these initiatives are not a substitute for long-term strategic workforce planning,” the report said. “Until DHS improves its strategic acquisition workforce planning, the department will continue to be at risk of not having a sufficient acquisition workforce to support current and future homeland security mission needs.”

The GAO recommended DHS:

•Establish an interim working definition of what comprises its acquisition workforce.

• Determine whether the department’s current recruiting efforts are applicable to other acquisition careers beyond contract specialists, and if so, expand the efforts to other areas.

•Develop a comprehensive implementation plan for current acquisition workforce initiatives.

• Direct the department's chief human capital officer (CHCO) and the  chief procurement officer to establish a joint process that includes DHS component agencies in acquisition workforce planning.

•Improve the collection and maintenance of data on the acquisition workforce.

In response to GAO’s recommendations, DHS Chief Procurement Officer Thomas Essig wrote that the department generally concurred with the report’s recommendations and noted efforts underway to address them.

For example, Essig wrote in the letter dated Nov. 12 that the department had developed a comprehensive implementation plan that focused on eight current DHS initiatives to recruit, hire and train members of the acquisition workforce.

He also said the department had established the interim workforce definition as being positions in DHS that devote at least 50 percent of their time and responsibilities to acquisition-related obligations.

In addition, Essig detailed some of the department’s plans to expand recruiting efforts beyond contract specialists. Essig also explained how his office and the Office of the CHCO were coordinating to identify the acquisition workforce and to better capture data on them.

According to the GAO, in fiscal 2007 DHS obligated about $12 billion to buy goods and services, making the department one of the largest purchasers in the government.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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