House Republican slams Homeland Security’s contract management

Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas Lauren Victoria Burke/AP

Senior leaders at the Homeland Security Department are “failing to hold acquisition programs accountable” in such key areas as border and airport security, a House subcommittee chairman charged Friday.

Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, told a hearing of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations and Management that portions of the $167 billion in current program purchases of equipment and software “have been continually put at high risk” because of managers’ failure to execute a 2008 policy to require a “knowledge-based” approach to documenting specifications, costs and risks.

The Government Accountability Office, he noted, recently released a report finding that of 49 programs that DHS leadership reviewed, 43 were allowed to move forward with development even though they had not adhered to department policy. And of 71 programs that GAO reviewed, only four adhered to DHS policy, and more than 30 had none of the documentation required to demonstrate this critical knowledge. Costs in 16 programs increased 166 percent in only three years, McCaul added, and only a third of the programs had department-approved baselines that are essential for measuring cost growth.

“The results of these management failures are programs that are delivered late, cost more and do less than expected,” McCaul said, noting DHS management remains on GAO’s high-risk list.

“What we really need is a business leader at the top, since so many problems are management issues,” he told the hearing. “I will leave that to the next president.”

John Hutton, GAO’s director of acquisition and sourcing management, said, “DHS recognizes the need to implement its acquisition policy more consistently, but significant work remains.” He said managers departmentwide “are now talking a common language and breaking down silos.” He noted other programs, including some in the Defense Department, have remained on the high-risk list for years. “You’re not going to get perfection,” Hutton said.

Nick Nayak, DHS’ chief procurement officer, defended the department and testified, “We continue to improve the analysis and rigor for all phases of the acquisition life cycle. We are also using more accurate business intelligence and a more mature governance framework to analyze critical details before authorizing a program to proceed to the next phase of its life cycle.”

He cited other recent GAO reports giving more positive reviews of DHS’ management integration and procurement oversight. “There’s cleanup to be done” in such areas as producing credible cost estimates in 127 major programs, he said. “We needed time to execute and we’re doing it now.”

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