Congress

House bill seeks to reform DHS buying habits

contract signing

The House passed a measure that would make DHS' CIO the lead technical authority for that agency's IT acquisition programs. The bill now moves to the Senate.

Lawmakers took some pot shots at the Homeland Security Department's problems keeping track of what and how it buys things, then passed a measure aimed at overhauling the DHS acquisition process.

DHS acquisition management practices have been on the Government Accountability Office's "High-Risk List" for programs highly susceptible to fraud, waste, abuse and mismanagement since 2005 -- just three years after the department was created in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said the bill, passed June 9 by voice vote, would set standards for DHS acquisitions, improving accountability, discipline and transparency in a department that spent $10 billion on acquisitions last year.

The bill would require DHS to report major project cost overruns to Congress; give the agency's chief acquisition officer the authority to approve, halt, modify or cancel major acquisition programs; and establish an internal acquisition review board to review procurement documentation, costs, scheduling and performance of big acquisitions.

The bill also stipulates the DHS CIO would be the lead technical authority for IT acquisition programs and would provide recommendations to the acquisition review board on IT programs.

The legislative text notes the total cost for DHS' acquisition program is unclear because the agency has not provided consistent and comparable updates on an annual basis. However, the legislation said that based on 2011 budget estimates, DHS plans to spend $170 billion in the future for major acquisition programs.

Sponsor Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) said the measure would correct inconsistencies in the agency's acquisitions process that have led to waste of taxpayer dollars, oversight failures and mismanagement of projects.

Duncan and McCaul both pointed to a 2012 Government Accountability Office report that found only 16 of 42 acquisitions programs had approved baseline costs, and identified 42 programs that experienced cost growth, schedule slips or both.

"The Department of Homeland Security was given a tremendous mission and faced the tough task of bringing together over 20 various departments and agencies under one roof upon its founding," said Duncan, who added that there are still no excuses for the agency's cost overruns and other acquisition problems.

The bill, he said "standardizes the acquisitions process and establishes oversight mechanisms so projects can be measured and reviewed accordingly, requires baseline costs approval for projects, and gives agency leaders the needed authority to take swift action on major acquisition projects that are experiencing problems."

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a staff writer at FCW.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at mrockwell@fcw.com or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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