IG, Border Protection debate consolidation's benefits

The Homeland Security Department’s inspector general recommended Customs and Border Protection officials drop a planned acquisition of a new aviation logistics management IT system and instead use the Coast Guard’s management system.

The department would save money by using the existing system, the IG wrote in a report, which was released Aug. 8.

CBP’s Office of Air and Marine has 270 aircraft of 26 different types and needs a better way to track them. The office keeps details on airplane maintenance and inventories in the Computerized Aircraft Reporting and Material Control, a system built in 1979 with a now-outdated programming language. Officials estimate they will pay more than $21 million to maintain CARMAC for the next five years, while replacing it with a new system would cost an estimated $7 million to buy and then operate over the next five years.

However, the IG report suggests that a new system, in addition to costing more than connecting to the existing system, would also weaken DHS's overall consolidation. 

“This plan would continue past practices of obtaining disparate systems that cannot share information with other components,” including the Coast Guard, the IG wrote in the report.

The Coast Guard's system is called the Asset Logistics Management Information System (ALMIS), which tracks aircraft maintenance and related details. The system has been blessed already by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and it’s operational in the DHS IT infrastructure. The Coast Guard is also updating it now. The IG said ALMIS is the best candidate for CBP officials to choose.

The IG goes on to cite the department’s goal for the coming fiscal year. DHS officials told Congress in their fiscal 2013 budget proposal they intend to emphasize the importance of consolidating and streamlining systems and operations as much as possible. Their point is to save money.

It’s not that easy though, CBP officials said. The bureau argues that it could be costly to standardize the CBP's and Coast Guard's accounting processes. CBP would have to set up a transition office to make the move, and it currently doesn’t have the resources or employees to do it.

The Air and Marine Office “simply cannot wait indefinitely on the aviation information systems unification effort when sufficient resources are neither now available nor likely to be available anytime soon for its implementation,” James Tomsheck, assistant commissioner of CBP’s Office of Internal Affairs, wrote to the IG.

He added that the IG reaches an “apparent and incorrect conclusion that consolidating IT systems always leads to efficiencies that outweigh the costs.” And, instead of saving money, the Air and Marine Office would spend more money by choosing ALMIS, especially during start-up.

To be certain of efficiencies, CBP needs to check for alternatives in the commercial sector or in government. Ultimately though, CARMAC needs to be put down to improve the agency’s operations, he wrote.

The IG responded though that ALMIS has been identified as the system DHS agencies should use for aviation logistics tracking. CBP would hinder that unification by choosing to set up its own system.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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