DHS excoriated for mismanaged HR IT system

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An ambitious program begun by the Department of Homeland Security in 2003 to consolidate all of its component agencies' HR systems, from payroll to timesheets and beyond, isn't near completion after more than 12 years of work. Many in Congress are not pleased.

A Government Accountability Office study on the DHS HRIT investment released for a Feb. 25 House Homeland Security Oversight and Management Efficiency subcommittee hearing said 400 of the agency's human capital systems that were to have been consolidated under the program are unaccounted for.  The program has cost millions, GAO found, but DHS did not keep track of exact costs.

Carol Cha, GAO's director of IT acquisition management issues, testified at the hearing that the HRIT has been on her agency's list of high-risk IT projects for some time.

"That's breathtaking," said subcommittee Chairman Scott Perry (R-Pa.). More than a dozen years and $180 million later, he said, DHS is "no closer" to completing the project than it was in 2003.  The exact cost to date, said Perry,  because of the inadequate record-keeping.

"This is a poster child of inept management," he said, declaring the lack of cost tracking "reprehensible, unacceptable."

DHS, Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J) said, "has shown a tremendous lack of commitment" to the project.

Later in the hearing, Perry's irritation with DHS' handling of the sprawling project flared again and again. "For the love of God Mr. Fulghum, [the money] has been pissed away," he snarled at Chip Fulghum, DHS' deputy undersecretary for management.

Fulghum was in the hot seat to defend the agency's work on the project. "We don't care if it's hard to do," Perry said, later adding, "you're the heavies, get it done."

Although Fulghum said DHS agreed with the GAO's 14 recommendations to address HRIT's poor progress and ineffective management, he pointed to the agency's work on the consolidated performance management and learning system called PALMS as evidence that DHS can execute on enterprise-wide IT consolidation. He said the agency's component agencies are close to signing off on PALMS' use.

Fulghum also said DHS is working aggressively to strengthen the program's oversight and direction. He said the agency had also appointed Angela Bailey as chief human capital officer a few months ago to coordinate the project.

Bailey, who also testified at the hearing, assured the panel that her agency has stepped up oversight meetings with an executive review councils and boards to spur progress. "Clearly we have work to do," she said.

Amid the admonitions from the congressional panel, Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.) threw something of a life preserver to Fulghum in the middle of the hearing, asking the DHS executive if the agency has considered shared services to handle some of the HR functions that HRIT would do.

Richmond noted that the Agriculture Department's National Finance Center provides payroll and other financial management services, as well as human resources management services. "At the end of the day, we just want things to work," said Richmond, whose Louisiana district is home to the NFC. "You should talk to the director of the National Finance Center. They say they can solve the problem."

Fulghum said he supported shared services and that "we're absolutely interested" in exploring such opportunities.

At the end of the hearing, Flughum pledged to spur progress on the program in the coming months. He said the oversight panel would receive a concrete plan by early May that contains hard deadlines and a blueprint for moving ahead.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

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 [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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