GAO: DHS' major investments lack appropriate oversight

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Major Homeland Security Department investments -- some in information technology -- lack appropriate oversight, a Government Accountability Office study has found.

The GAO said in a report released today that DHS’ investment review process for its major programs has not provided the oversight necessary to identify and deal with problems of cost, meeting schedules and performance. The report also said many major investments lacked the basic acquisition documents necessary to the review process.

In response, DHS cited actions it had taken and others it is taking to implement GAO’s recommendations.

DHS invests billions in information technology systems, border surveillance, screening equipment and Coast Guard ships and aircraft. According to the GAO, the department obligated about $12 billion for acquisitions in fiscal 2007.

The GAO also found of the 48 major investments requiring department level review between fiscal 2004 and the second quarter of fiscal 2008, 45 were not reviewed in accordance with DHS' investment review policy. Also, 18 of those investments were not reviewed at all, and four of those projects were already in production and deployment.

The GAO said because the investment review process is integrated into the budget process, funding decisions have been made in the absence of oversight and reviews. As a result “DHS cannot ensure that annual funding decisions for its major investments make the best use of resources and address mission needs,” the report said.

The report said poor implementation of the investment review process was largely due to DHS’ failure to make sure the department’s major acquisition decision-making entities effectively carried out their oversight responsibilities and had the necessary resources. The review organizations’ activities had not kept pace with the investments being made, the report said.

The GAO said that of DHS’ 57 major investments -- each with a value of at least $50 million -- almost a third had received funding without having mission needs validated by the review organizations. The GAO also found that DHS had not performed regular reviews of its investment portfolios to avoid unintended duplication of efforts.

The report added that as of July, more than a quarter of DHS major investments were on both the Office of Management and Budget' s Management Watch List and another list of high risk projects with shortfalls.

The GAO recommended that DHS:

• Establish a mechanism to identify and track new and ongoing major investments to ensure compliance with oversight board recommendations.

• Use a departmental joint requirements oversight board to review acquisition requirements and assess the potential for duplication.

• Make sure investment decisions have the required transparency and documentation.

•Ensure that funding decisions are informed by investment reviews and life-cycle cost estimates.

•Align management resources to conduct oversight reviews through the investment process.

•Make sure component agencies have processes in place to manage major investments consistent with DHS policies.

•Create a mechanism to ensure the major investments comply with investment- review standards.

In a response letter, Thomas Essig, DHS’ chief procurement officer, said the department generally concurred with the recommendations and had already implemented most of what the GAO recommended.

For example, Essig said the department had re-engineered the acquisition program’s periodic reporting process and is implementing a new system to better track performance and review of programs. DHS has also developed a new review process to address the department’s capabilities and gaps, he said.

In addition, the department has implemented a new management directive that requires further acqui sition documentation and that ties DHS’ budgeting process to requirements decisions, Essig said, adding that the actions the department has taken or that are underway will work to ensure compliance with DHS and its component agencies’ acquisition policies.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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