DHS needs to try tech before it buys, GAO says
Department advised to complete research tests before acquisition begins
- By Alice Lipowicz
- Mar 15, 2011
The Homeland Security Department should avoid costly mistakes by
completing testing of new technologies before it begins major
acquisitions, an official of the Government Accountability Office told a
House panel today.
DHS has already experienced problems in several cases when new
technologies were acquired and implemented before testing and evaluation
were complete, David Maurer, director of homeland security and justice
issues at GAO, told the House Science and Technology Committee's
Technology and Innovation Subcommittee. In those cases, the results included costs overruns, procurement
delays and inefficiencies.
Managers should conduct cost-benefit
analysis while new technologies are still in the pre-acquisition stage,
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For example, last September, GAO reported that DHS’ Domestic
Nuclear Detection Office was simultaneously researching, and also
planning for acquisition, of an advanced automated radiography system to
detect nuclear materials in vehicles and at ports. DHS spent $113
million on acquisition from 2005 to 2007, when acquisition was canceled
because it was determined that the system would not fit within existing
inspection lanes and would slow the flow of commerce and cause major
In 2010, GAO found that the Coast Guard had ordered maritime patrol
aircraft, medium response boats and Sentinel class patrol boats prior
to completing testing, putting those programs at risk if problems were
later detected in their designs.
In October 2009, GAO reported that the Transportation Security
Administration had installed explosives trace portal machines at airport
checkpoints, even though previous tests showed that the portals did not
perform reliably in airport environments. TSA halted the deployments
“Our work has highlighted the need for DHS to strengthen its R&D
efforts by ensuring that testing efforts are completed before making
acquisition decisions and cost-benefit analyses are conducted to reduce
research and development inefficiencies and costs,” Maurer said. “The
planned actions DHS reports it is taking or has under way to address
management of its research and development programs are positive steps
and, if implemented effectively, could help the department address many
of these challenges. However, it is too early to fully assess the effect
of these actions.”
DHS officials announced in January a new model for
managing departmentwide spending programs across their life cycles and
including the Science & Technology directorate in every
phase of the cycle.
“According to DHS, S&T will help ensure that new
technologies are properly scoped, developed and tested before being
implemented,” Maurer said.
Tara O'Toole, undersecretary at the S&T directorate, said she
has started new strategic goals for the directorate that include
developing and delivering innovation solutions for DHS missions;
becoming best in class at technology foraging, which means scanning the
horizon for new technologies that can be applied to DHS missions; working with the private sector through investments in nonprofit groups
and identifying and prioritizing projects to solve long-term strategic
needs; supporting university research and innovation; and strengthening
the broader homeland security community and first-responder community
with new technology solutions.
The directorate also recently created an Acquisition Support and
Operations Analysis Group to provide a range of coordinated operations
analysis, systems engineering, test and evaluation, and standards
development. The goal of the group is to deal with the "front-end” needs
of the acquisition cycle by helping to translate mission needs into
testable requirements, O’Toole said.
Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.