The federal government allocates billions of dollars for researching, developing, and testing technologies and other countermeasures to address chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and other threats facing the nation. The Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) conducts research and development efforts to improve homeland security by, among other things, providing its federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial emergency responder customers with technology to help them achieve their missions. DHS's Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO) is charged with developing, acquiring, and deploying equipment to detect nuclear and radiological materials, supporting the efforts of DHS and other federal agencies. According to DHS documents, the total budget authority for S&T and DNDO was over $5.8 billion for fiscal years 2007 through 2010. DHS has experienced challenges in managing its multibillion dollar research and development efforts, and GAO has identified problems with its testing and cost-benefit analyses efforts in this area.
GAO determined total budget authority for S&T and DNDO based on DHS's Monthly Budget Execution Reports for fiscal years 2007 through 2010. GAO has not independently verified amounts in the reports.
In managing its multibillion dollar research and development efforts, DHS has experienced cost overruns and delays in the procurement and deployment of technologies and systems needed to meet critical homeland security needs. DHS could help reduce inefficiencies and costs in its research and development program by completing testing efforts before making acquisition decisions and including cost-benefit analyses in its research and development efforts.
DHS has made acquisition decisions without completing testing efforts to ensure that the systems purchased met program requirements. GAO's prior work has shown that failure to resolve problems discovered during testing can sometimes lead to costly redesign and rework at a later date. Addressing such problems during the testing phase before moving to the acquisition phase can help agencies avoid future cost overruns.
In addition, GAO's prior work has shown that cost-benefit analyses help congressional and agency decision makers assess and prioritize resource investments and consider potentially more cost-effective alternatives. However, DHS has not included cost-benefit analyses in its testing efforts and acquisition decision making.
In January 2011, DHS reported that it plans to take additional actions to strengthen its research and development efforts. For example, DHS reported that it plans to establish a new model for managing departmentwide investments across their life cycles. DHS reported that S&T will be involved in each phase of the investment life cycle and will participate in new entities DHS is planning to create to help ensure that test and evaluation methods are appropriately considered as part of DHS's overall research and development investment strategies. According to DHS, S&T will help ensure that new technologies are properly scoped, developed, and tested before being implemented. In addition, DHS reported that the new entities it is planning to establish to strengthen management of the department's acquisition and investment review process will be responsible for, among other things, making decisions on research and development initiatives based on factors such as viability and affordability, and overseeing key acquisition decisions for major programs using baseline and actual data.
GAO's work has highlighted the need for the department to strengthen its research and development efforts by ensuring that (1) testing efforts are completed before making acquisition decisions and (2) cost-benefit analyses are conducted to reduce research and development inefficiencies and costs. The planned actions DHS reports it is taking or has under way to address management of its research and development programs are positive steps and, if implemented effectively, could help the department address many of these challenges. However, it is too early to fully assess the impact of these actions.
GAO has reported that DHS could take further actions to improve its management of research and development efforts and reduce costs in procuring and deploying programs that have not been fully tested. For example, rigorously testing devices using actual agency operational tactics before making decisions on acquisition would help DHS reduce inefficiencies and costs. Further, conducting cost-benefit analyses as part of research, development, and testing efforts would help DHS and congressional decision makers better assess and prioritize investment decisions, including assessing possible program alternatives that could be more cost-effective.
The information contained in this analysis is based on the related GAO products listed under the "Related GAO Products" tab. GAO has ongoing work for the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs reviewing the role that S&T has in conducting testing and evaluation of major acquisitions programs prior to implementation.
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