Contract Management:

INS Contracting Weaknesses Need Attention from the Department of Homeland Security

GAO-03-799: Published: Jul 25, 2003. Publicly Released: Aug 25, 2003.

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With annual obligations for goods and services totaling $1.7 billion, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) is one of the largest of 23 entities coming into the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). INS's procurement organization will continue to acquire goods and services under DHS. GAO was asked to review INS's contracting processes to assess whether INS has an adequate infrastructure to manage its acquisitions and to determine whether INS is following sound contracting policies and procedures in awarding and managing individual contracts.

INS does not have the basic infrastructure--including oversight, information, and an acquisition workforce--in place to ensure that its contracting activity is effective. Oversight of procurement is difficult because procurement managers are placed at a low level within the organization, and they do not have the leverage to hold employees across the agency accountable for compliance with procurement policies. Further, procurement activities are not coordinated well because INS has not made effective use of cross-functional teams--consisting of procurement, program, budget, financial, and legal representatives--throughout the acquisition process. Procurement managers are unable to make strategic decisions that would allow them to maximize spending power across the agency because INS's information systems do not provide visibility into what is being spent agencywide for goods and services and who the major vendors are. INS's acquisition workforce is struggling to manage effectively large and mission-critical procurements. Despite growth in mission requirements and the overall workforce during the past decade, the agency has not been able to attract and retain the necessary contracting staff. Further, INS lacks a strategic acquisition workforce plan to help identify the knowledge, skills, and abilities the agency needs to ensure it can meet current and future requirements. In addition, acquisition planning, competition, and contractor monitoring have been inadequate on some large contracts. The lack of adequate advanced planning for several detention center contracts and one large information technology management contract limited opportunities for full and open competition. Contractor performance monitoring has, in some cases, been inadequate to provide assurance that INS received the goods or services it paid for or that quality standards were met. GAO did not find significant or widespread compliance problems with other contract criteria we reviewed. Because INS has become a significant part of DHS and brings with it a procurement function that needs attention, it is imperative for DHS leadership to address these problems early in the development of the new department.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) provided a memorandum outlining steps that are in process. It is not sufficient to close out the recommendations. The former INS (the subject of this audit and previously the entity that awarded detention facility contracts) was divided among different bureaus with the creation of DHS. Because we have ongoing work on DHS acquisition and oversight that encompasses a wide range of issues, and because the audit work underlying this recommendation was done at the former INS, which no longer exists, the recommendation is being closed.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of DHS should direct the Under Secretary for Management to take the following actions as part of ongoing efforts to implement DHS procurement policies. To ensure that the department's contracts are well-managed, the Under Secretary for Management should develop a system for tracking the status of current detention facility contracts so that contracting officers and program managers are automatically alerted to begin the planning process at least two years before a new contract has to be awarded.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Management

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DHS indicated that it will phase out collateral duty contracting officers. A DHS directive states that only individuals with specific contracting officer authority may execute contracts and related agreements.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of DHS should direct the Under Secretary for Management to take the following actions as part of ongoing efforts to implement DHS procurement policies. To address acquisition workforce issues, the Under Secretary for Management should explore ways of making collateral duty contracting officers in field locations more accountable through the procurement heirarchy for their contracting work.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Management

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: GAO reported in March 2005 that an acquisition workforce plan has been prepared.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of DHS should direct the Under Secretary for Management to take the following actions as part of ongoing efforts to implement DHS procurement policies. To address acquisition workforce issues, the Under Secretary for Management should develop a data-driven assessment of the department's acquisition personnel, resulting in a workforce plan that identifies the number, location, and skills and competencies of the workforce. The plan should also identify key strategies to attract and retain this workforce, including use of available recruiting and retention flexibilities or other targeted approaches. As part of this planning, the Under Secretary for Management should ensure that term appointments for procurement personnel are used as intended and not to meet long-term needs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Management

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: GAO reported in March 2005 on the department's strategic sourcing program.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of DHS should direct the Under Secretary for Management to take the following actions as part of ongoing efforts to implement DHS procurement policies. To improve the effectiness of the procurement function, the Under Secretary for Management should, as part of its assessment of existing information systems coming into the department, determine what procurement and financial information must be gathered to obtain strategic knowledge of spending behavior across the department.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Management

  5. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) provided a memorandum outlining steps that are in process. It is not sufficient to close out the recommendations. This recommendation has broader applicability to DHS as a whole, not just ICE. Because we have ongoing work on DHS acquisition and oversight that encompasses a wide range of issues, and because the audit work underlying this recommendation was done at the former INS, which no longer exists, the recommendation is being closed.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of DHS should direct the Under Secretary for Management to take the following actions as part of ongoing efforts to implement DHS procurement policies. To improve the effectiveness of the procurement function, the Under Secretary for Management should create and review meaningful procurement performance measures and indicators to ensure that management directives are carried out by the large number of field activities in the department.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Management

  6. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) provided a memorandum outlining steps that are in process. It is not sufficient to close out the recommendations. This recommendation is broadly applicable to DHS Procurement and not just ICE. Because we have ongoing work on DHS acquisition and oversight that encompasses a wide range of issues, and because the audit work underlying this recommendation was done at the former INS, which no longer exists, the recommendation is being closed.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of DHS should direct the Under Secretary for Management to take the following actions as part of ongoing efforts to implement DHS procurement policies. To improve the effectiveness of the procurement function, the Under Secretary for Management should ensure that cross-functional acquisition teams, consisting of program, procurement, legal, budget, and financial officials, effectively collaborate in planning and administering contracts.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Management

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: A DHS directive addresses the appointment and responsibilities of contracting officers' technical representatives.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of DHS should direct the Under Secretary for Management to take the following actions as part of ongoing efforts to implement DHS procurement policies. To ensure that the department's contracts are well-managed, the Under Secretary for Management should implement ways of holding designated Contracting Officer's Technical Representatives responsible for monitoring, reporting, and documenting contractor performance (e.g., require them to report on a regular basis to the contracting officer).

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Management

 

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