DHS acquisition oversight has holes, IG report says

Without more controls and better guidance, there are gaps in visibility into $55B portfolio, according to IG

The Homeland Security Department has gaps and inconsistencies in its oversight of the $55 billion worth of acquisitions it performs annually, according to a report from DHS' Office of Inspector General.

Even though the department spends about $9 billion a year to manage the procurements, there are inadequate controls, reporting inconsistencies, gaps in the use of acquisition tools and strategic sourcing, and unnecessary administrative costs, wrote Anne Richards, assistant IG for audits at DHS, in the May 2 report.

DHS agencies "created program management offices to manage simple procurements, incurring unnecessary administrative program costs without adding value to the programs,” she wrote. “Additionally, without adequate controls in place, the department did not have complete visibility of all programs within its acquisition portfolio.”

Recognizing the continued increase in the quantity and complexity of acquisitions, DHS issued additional guidance for procurement management and oversight in 2008. DHS also issued supplemental acquisition guidance in 2010, Richards said.


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However, despite those positive steps, the department should do more to refine its policies and strengthen oversight, she wrote.

Some acquisition programs are being treated in an unnecessarily complex fashion, the report states. For example, automation of student registration, class scheduling and other manual processes for the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) is estimated to cost $30 million. The center contracted out all aspects of the program, including requirements analysis, development and maintenance of a system that uses commercial and custom applications.

“Because of the unclear instructions, instead of creating a simple procurement, FLETC created an acquisition program that may have unnecessarily increased program management administrative cost,” the report states.

The IG's office reviewed 17 programs. Ten of them, totaling $5 billion, identified commercial items or existing contracts as meeting the programs' needs. Therefore, they likely could have been managed as simple procurements rather than as life cycle programs, Richards said. 

DHS also developed inconsistent requirements for components to follow when reporting an acquisition in the Next Generation Periodic Reporting System. For 16 of the 17 programs reviewed, some information was missing in the reports. For example, only seven programs reported the Acquisition Program Baseline milestones.

Although the department identified 86 major acquisition programs worth more than $300 million each, the numbers reported by component agencies did not match, the IG's report states.

“The department does not always know what is in its acquisition portfolio because of the conflicting written and verbal guidance provided to the components,” Richards wrote.

The report makes four recommendations for DHS' chief procurement officer:

  • Develop a decision matrix tool to help component agencies decide when to apply life cycle management processes.
  • Direct DHS agencies to report all acquisition programs to the next-generation reporting system.
  • Require all agencies to consider using the Strategic Sourcing Program Office, the General Services Administration schedule and departmentwide contracts in the planning phase of an acquisition program.
  • Implement a plan of action or completion deadline for departmentwide finalization of acquisition management policies and procedures.

DHS officials agreed with the recommendations and have started corrective actions, according to the report.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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