Secure Border Initiative:

DHS Needs to Strengthen Management and Oversight of Its Prime Contractor

GAO-11-6: Published: Oct 18, 2010. Publicly Released: Oct 18, 2010.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Randolph C. Hite
(202) 512-6256
contact@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

The Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Secure Border Initiative Network (SBInet) is to place surveillance systems along our nation's borders and provide Border Patrol command centers with the imagery and related tools and information needed to detect breaches and make agent deployment decisions. To deliver SBInet, DHS has relied heavily on its prime contractor. Because of the importance of effective contractor management and oversight to SBInet, GAO was asked to determine the extent to which DHS (1) defined and implemented effective controls for managing and overseeing the prime contractor and (2) effectively monitored the contractor's progress in meeting cost and schedule expectations. To do this, GAO analyzed key program documentation against relevant guidance and best practices, and interviewed program officials.

DHS has largely defined but has not adequately implemented the full range of controls that is reflected in relevant guidance and related best practices and is needed to effectively manage and oversee its SBInet prime contractor. To the department's credit, it has defined a number of key policies and procedures for verifying and accepting contract deliverables and conducting technical reviews, such as the criteria that need to be met before commencing and concluding a critical design review. Moreover, it has implemented some of these defined practices, such as those associated with training key contractor management and oversight officials. However, DHS has not effectively implemented other controls. For example, it has not adequately documented its review of contract deliverables and communicated to the prime contractor the basis for rejecting certain deliverables. Further, it has not ensured that key documentation satisfied relevant criteria before concluding key technical reviews. These weaknesses can be attributed in part to limitations in the defined verification and acceptance deliverable process, a program office decision to exclude certain deliverables from the process, and insufficient time to review technical review documentation. All told, DHS has not effectively managed and overseen its SBInet prime contractor, thus resulting in costly rework and contributing to SBInet's well-chronicled history of not delivering promised capabilities and benefits on time and within budget. DHS has not effectively monitored the SBInet prime contractor's progress in meeting cost and schedule expectations. While DHS has used earned value management (EVM), which is a proven management approach for understanding program status and identifying early warning signs of impending schedule delays and cost overruns, it has not ensured that its contractor has effectively implemented EVM. In particular, DHS has not ensured that validated performance baselines (the estimated value of planned work against which performance is measured) were timely, complete, and accurate. For example, the contractor was allowed to perform work on task orders for several months without a validated baseline in place. Further, not all work to be performed was included in the baselines that were eventually established, and the schedules for completing this work did not substantially comply with six of the eight key practices that relevant guidance states are important to having a reliable schedule. Also, DHS regularly received incomplete and anomalous EVM data from the prime contractor, which it had to rely on to measure progress and project the time and cost to complete the program. As a result, DHS has not been able to gain meaningful and proactive insight into potential cost and schedule performance shortfalls, and thus take corrective actions to avoid shortfalls in the future. Program officials attributed these weaknesses in part to the instability in the scope of the work to be performed, and the contractor's use of estimated, rather than actual, costs for subcontractor work and the subsequent adjustments that are made when actual costs are received. This inability has contributed to the program's failure to live up to expectations and to it costing more and taking longer than was necessary. GAO is making recommendations to DHS aimed at revising and implementing policies and procedures related to contractor deliverables and technical reviews, and improving EVM baselines and data. DHS agreed with GAO's recommendations and described actions to address them, but took exception with selected findings and conclusions regarding EVM implementation. GAO stands by these findings and conclusions for reasons discussed in the report.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In January 2010, the Secretary of Homeland Security initiated an assessment of the SBInet program. The assessment was motivated in part by continuing delays in the development and deployment of SBInet capabilities and concerns that the SBInet system had not been adequately justified by a quantitative assessment of cost and benefits. Between January 2010 and January 2011, we reported on a variety of management weaknesses that contributed to the Secretary's concerns, including inadequate acquisition management practices--test management, requirements management, and risk management-- shrinking system capabilities, and the lack of effective contractor oversight and economic justification for the program; and we made associated recommendations with which DHS largely agreed. In January 2011, DHS completed its assessment and decided to end SBInet as originally conceived. We consider DHS's decision to discontinue the SBInet program a prudent course of action, and responsive to the many recommendations we made to address the wide array of identified weaknesses.

    Recommendation: To improve DHS management and oversight of the SBInet prime contractor, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Commissioner of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection to have the SBI Executive Director, in collaboration with the SBInet Program Director, to establish and validate timely, complete, and accurate performance measurement baselines for each new task order or major modification of an existing task order, as appropriate, to include, but not be limited to, ensuring that (1) the work breakdown structure includes all work to be performed, (2) baseline schedules reflect the key schedule estimating practices discussed in this report, and (3) level-of-effort performance measurement in excess of 15 percent is scrutinized, justified, and minimized.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In January 2010, the Secretary of Homeland Security initiated an assessment of the SBInet program. The assessment was motivated in part by continuing delays in the development and deployment of SBInet capabilities and concerns that the SBInet system had not been adequately justified by a quantitative assessment of cost and benefits. Between January 2010 and January 2011, we reported on a variety of management weaknesses that contributed to the Secretary's concerns, including inadequate acquisition management practices--test management, requirements management, and risk management--shrinking system capabilities, and the lack of effective contractor oversight and economic justification for the program; and we made associated recommendations with which DHS largely agreed. In January 2011, DHS completed its assessment and decided to end SBInet as originally conceived. We consider DHS's decision to discontinue the SBInet program a prudent course of action, and responsive to the many recommendations we made to address the wide array of identified weaknesses.

    Recommendation: To improve DHS management and oversight of the SBInet prime contractor, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Commissioner of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection to have the SBI Executive Director, in collaboration with the SBInet Program Director, to ensure that applicable entry and exit criteria for each technical review are used and satisfied before initiating and concluding, respectively, a given review.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In January 2010, the Secretary of Homeland Security initiated an assessment of the SBInet program. The assessment was motivated in part by continuing delays in the development and deployment of SBInet capabilities and concerns that the SBInet system had not been adequately justified by a quantitative assessment of cost and benefits. Between January 2010 and January 2011, we reported on a variety of management weaknesses that contributed to the Secretary's concerns, including inadequate acquisition management practices-test management, requirements management, and risk management--shrinking system capabilities, and the lack of effective contractor oversight and economic justification for the program; and we made associated recommendations with which DHS largely agreed. In January 2011, DHS completed its assessment and decided to end SBInet as originally conceived. We consider DHS's decision to discontinue the SBInet program a prudent course of action, and responsive to the many recommendations we made to address the wide array of identified weaknesses.

    Recommendation: To improve DHS management and oversight of the SBInet prime contractor, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Commissioner of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection to have the SBI Executive Director, in collaboration with the SBInet Program Director, to revise and implement, as applicable, contractor deliverable review processes and practices to ensure that (1) contractor deliverables are thoroughly reviewed and are not constrained by late contractor deliverables and imposed milestones, (2) the reviews are sufficiently documented, and (3) the acceptance or the rejection of each contractor deliverable is communicated in writing to the contractor, to include explicit explanations of the basis for any rejections.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In January 2010, the Secretary of Homeland Security initiated an assessment of the SBInet program. The assessment was motivated in part by continuing delays in the development and deployment of SBInet capabilities and concerns that the SBInet system had not been adequately justified by a quantitative assessment of cost and benefits. Between January 2010 and January 2011, we reported on a variety of management weaknesses that contributed to the Secretary's concerns, including inadequate acquisition management practices--test management, requirements management, and risk management-- shrinking system capabilities, and the lack of effective contractor oversight and economic justification for the program; and we made associated recommendations with which DHS largely agreed. In January 2011, DHS completed its assessment and decided to end SBInet as originally conceived. We consider DHS's decision to discontinue the SBInet program a prudent course of action, and responsive to the many recommendations we made to address the wide array of identified weaknesses.

    Recommendation: To improve DHS management and oversight of the SBInet prime contractor, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Commissioner of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection to have the SBI Executive Director, in collaboration with the SBInet Program Director, to ensure that all anomalies in contractor-delivered monthly earned value management reports are identified and explained, and report periodically to DHS acquisition leadership on relevant trends in the number of unexplained anomalies.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

 

Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Nov 25, 2014

Jul 29, 2014

Jul 18, 2014

Jun 23, 2014

Jun 17, 2014

Jun 12, 2014

Jun 10, 2014

May 28, 2014

Mar 27, 2014

Looking for more? Browse all our products here