Transportation Security Administration:

High-Level Attention Needed to Strengthen Acquisition Function

GAO-04-544: Published: May 28, 2004. Publicly Released: Jul 1, 2004.

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The Transportation Security Administration (TSA), within the Department of Homeland Security, was established to secure the nation's transportation systems, beginning with commercial airports. To meet its mission, TSA has awarded over $8.5 billion in contracts since its creation in 2001. Spending on contracts accounted for 48 percent of TSA's fiscal year 2003 budget. Because of TSA's reliance on contracts to carry out its mission, its acquisition infrastructure-- including oversight, policies and processes, acquisition workforce, and information about its acquisitions--is critical. GAO was asked to review TSA's acquisition infrastructure to assess how well TSA is positioned to carry out its acquisition function.

Since its inception, TSA has been focused on meeting an urgent mandate to deploy more than 55,000 airport passenger and baggage screening personnel and equipment to secure the nation's airways. To do so, it created basic organizational and acquisition infrastructures. However, our review of TSA's acquisition function and inspector general reports identified a number of challenges in each of the four areas we assessed. Organizational alignment and leadership: TSA's Office of Acquisition is at an organizational level too low to oversee the acquisition process, coordinate acquisition activities, and enforce acquisition policies effectively. The position of the office hinders its ability to help ensure that TSA follows acquisition processes that enable the agency to get the best value on goods and services. Policies and processes: TSA's acquisition policies and processes emphasize personal accountability, good judgment, justifiable business decisions, and integrated acquisition teams. However, effective implementation of TSA's policies and processes has been hindered by several factors. For example, TSA has not effectively communicated its acquisition policies throughout the agency. TSA also lacks internal controls to identify and address implementation issues and performance measures to determine whether acquisition policies are achieving desired results. Human capital: TSA risks an imbalance in the size and capabilities of its acquisition workforce that could diminish the performance of the acquisition function throughout the agency. TSA's Office of Acquisition worked closely with the Department of Homeland Security to develop and begin implementing an acquisition workforce plan. However, TSA's Human Resource Office, which is responsible for recruiting and hiring the acquisition workforce agencywide, did not participate in developing the acquisition workforce plan. Without input from the Human Resources Office, it is not clear that the workforce plan can be effectively implemented throughout the agency. In addition, the Office of Acquisition reports that it is having difficulty attracting, developing, and retaining a workforce with the acquisition knowledge and skills required to accomplish TSA's mission. Knowledge and information management: while TSA is participating in the Department of Homeland Security's efforts to develop requirements for an enterprisewide solution, TSA does not currently have the strategic information needed to support effective acquisition management decisions. To manage on a day-to-day basis, program and acquisition managers are relying on data derived from informal, ad-hoc systems. TSA is in the process of adopting the Coast Guard's procurement and financial systems as interim solutions until the Department of Homeland Security implements a departmentwide system. However, near-term improvement in acquisition outcomes will be difficult because TSA does not have the data needed to analyze and improve its acquisition processes.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DHS has developed an acquisition oversight policy and procedures that will now address the intent of this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Homeland Security should ensure that its planned departmentwide knowledge management system provides TSA sufficient data and analytic capability to support effective oversight of acquisitions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Border and Transportation Security: Transportation Security Administration

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The DHS strategic sourcing initiative, which involves collecting departmentwide spending information to leverage buying power, will address this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Homeland Security should ensure that its planned departmentwide knowledge management system provides TSA sufficient data and analytic capability to measure and analyze spending activities and performance--and thereby highlight opportunities to reduce costs and improve service levels.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Border and Transportation Security: Transportation Security Administration

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In written comments on GAO's report, the agency generally concurred with the recommendation and stated that the TSA Office of Human Resources would work with the DHS Acquisition Workforce staff to conduct gap analyses and remedy deficiencies. On June 24, 2005, TSA's Office of Acquisition provided the following additional information: TSA continues to work with the Office of Human Resources on assessing TSA's acquisition workforce and developing a formal career development ladder and Acquisition Human Capital Strategy. TSA expects to complete the strategy by July 2005 and will reassess and refine the plan after one year. On July 7, 2006, DHS provided written comments and supporting documentation regarding an acquisition workforce study that increased the Office of Acquisition's FTE levels. DHS also indicated that in FY05/06, TSA's Office of Acquisition recruited 19 fellows under the DHS fellows program; these fellows were recruited using a career ladder. TSA is currently recruiting for additional fellows for FY07 and is partnering with human resources to visit local universities. Additionally, the Office of Acquisition contracted out the development of a human capital plan for the organization that should be finalized by the end of FY06; a copy will be provided when the plan is complete.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that TSA receives the goods and services it needs at the best value to the government, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Administrator of the Transportation Security Administration to direct the TSA Human Capital Office to do the following in coordination with key offices in the Department of Homeland Security: (1) assess TSA's current acquisition workforce (as defined by the Department of Homeland Security) to determine the number, skills, and competencies of the workforce; (2) identify any gaps in the number, skills, and competencies of the current acquisition workforce; and (3) develop strategies to address any gaps identified, including plans to attract, retain, and train the workforce.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Border and Transportation Security: Transportation Security Administration

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In its written comments on GAO's report, the agency concurred with the recommendation. On June 24, 2005, TSA's Office of Acquisition provided the following additional information: TSA has implemented a contract oversight and quality assurance program, which includes developing oversight policy, implementing file reviews, using the services of the Defense Contract Management Agency and Defense Contract Audit Agency, strengthening the Contracting Officer's Technical Representative (COTR) program, and developing performance measures. Parts of these initiatives are still being developed. On July 7, 2006, DHS provided written comments, which further elaborated on its efforts described above, namely: the establishment of oversight policy through several directives, the establishment of a Management Control Council, and the TSA Investment Review Process Guide and a policy for Earned Value Management, both of which emphasize planning and program execution; DHS responded that its file reviews will be complete at the end of FY06; in FY 2005, TSA implemented an integrated financial/procurement/asset management system, which enables contracting officers to make awards and review invoices electronically; DHS provided several examples of DCAA reports issued to TSA contracting officers in FY 2005; COTR file reviews will be completed by the end of FY06; DHS indicated that in FY06 alone, 46 workshops with approximately 1,000 attendees that provided training in key acquisition processes were held, and two more workshops were recently implemented; and finally, DHS provided an example of a TSA Acquisition Program Status Report (scorecard).

    Recommendation: To help ensure that TSA receives the goods and services it needs at the best value to the government, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Administrator of the Transportation Security Administration to develop an adequate system of internal controls, performance measures, and incentives to ensure that policies and processes for ensuring efficient and effective acquisitions are implemented appropriately.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Border and Transportation Security: Transportation Security Administration

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In written comments on GAO's report, the agency stated that it had elevated the position of the Office of Acquisition once, but agreed to continue to evaluate its placement within the organization. On June 24, 2005, TSA's Office of Acquisition provided evidence that the Office of Acquisition had been elevated. On July 7, 2006, DHS responded with written comments that the TSA Assistant Administrator for Acquisition, Office of Acquisition, had been elevated as a direct report to the Deputy Administrator of TSA. Additionally, the Office of Acquisition rolled out an outreach program specifically tasked to link up acquisition expertise with every program office; the Office of Acquisition has specialists who provide guidance and support on every area of the acquisition lifecycle. DHS also indicated that a Management Directive was issued which established policy for the acquisition planning process and explains the roles and responsibilities of the principal TSA officials responsible for this process, including the Chief Procurement Executive.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that TSA receives the goods and services it needs at the best value to the government, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Administrator of the Transportation Security Administration to elevate the Office of Acquisition to an appropriate level within TSA to enable it to identify, analyze, prioritize, and coordinate agencywide acquisition needs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Border and Transportation Security: Transportation Security Administration

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DHS is revising its investment review process and expects the new process to be published by the end of 2008. We have seen a draft of the new process and it addresses the intent of this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Homeland Security should ensure that its planned departmentwide knowledge management system provides TSA sufficient data and analytic capability to facilitate the timely reporting of the agency's acquisition activities and its compliance with acquisition policies and processes.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Management

 

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