DHS Research and Development:
Science and Technology Directorate's Test and Evaluation and Reorganization Efforts
GAO-12-239T: Published: Nov 17, 2011. Publicly Released: Nov 17, 2011.
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This testimony discusses our prior work examining the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) and Research and Development (R&D) efforts. The Homeland Security Act of 2002 created DHS and, within it, established S&T with the responsibility for conducting national research, development, test and evaluation (T&E) of technology and systems for, among other things, detecting, preventing, protecting against, and responding to terrorist attacks. Since its creation in 2003, DHS, through both S&T and its components, has spent billions of dollars researching and developing technologies used to support a wide range of missions including securing the border, detecting nuclear devices, and screening airline passengers and baggage for explosives, among others. S&T has a wide-ranging mission, which includes conducting basic and applied research of technologies, and overseeing the testing and evaluation of component acquisitions and technologies to ensure that they meet DHS acquisition requirements before implementation in the field. In recent years, we have reported that DHS has experienced challenges in managing its multibillion-dollar technology development and acquisition efforts, including implementing technologies that did not meet intended requirements and were not appropriately tested and evaluated. These problems highlight the important role that S&T plays in overseeing DHS testing and evaluation. S&T has reorganized to better achieve its goals and provide better assistance to DHS components in developing technologies. In addition to the challenge of implementing its varied mission, S&T is also managing a decline in available R&D resources. S&T's fiscal year 2011 appropriation decreased 20 percent from fiscal year 2010 and, while its fiscal year 2012 appropriation has not yet been enacted, both the House and Senate marks for the agency are lower than what was appropriated in fiscal year 2011. As a result, S&T has had to adjust resources and re-prioritize its efforts. In the past, we have reported on issues related to the transformation and reorganization of R&D efforts in the federal government, particularly related to shifting of priorities and managing a reduction in resources. In addition, we identified DHS R&D as an area for potential costs savings in our March 2011 report regarding opportunities to reduce potential duplication in government programs, save tax dollars, and enhance revenue. Specifically, we reported that DHS could take further actions to improve its management of R&D and reduce costs by ensuring that testing efforts are completed before making acquisition decisions and cost-benefit analyses are conducted to reduce R&D inefficiencies and costs. The testimony today focuses on the key findings from our prior work related to S&T's test and evaluation efforts, S&T's recent reorganization efforts, and key findings from our past work related to federal R&D. Specifically, this statement will address: (1) the extent to which S&T oversees T&E of major DHS acquisitions and what challenges, if any, S&T officials report facing in overseeing T&E across DHS; and (2) S&T's recent reorganization efforts and how key findings from our prior work on R&D in the federal government can inform how S&T moves forward. This statement is based on reports and testimonies we issued from March 1995 to July 2011 related to DHS's efforts to manage, test, and deploy various technology programs; transformation of federal R&D; and selected updates conducted from July 2011 to the present related to S&T's reorganization efforts..
In June 2011, we reported that S&T met some of its oversight requirements for T&E of acquisition programs we reviewed, but additional steps were needed to ensure that all requirements were met. Specifically, since DHS issued the T&E directive in May 2009, S&T reviewed or approved T&E documents and plans for programs undergoing testing, and conducted independent assessments for the programs that completed operational testing during this time period. S&T officials told us that they also provided input and reviewed other T&E documentation, such as components' documents describing the programs' performance requirements, as required by the T&E directive. DHS senior level officials considered S&T's T&E assessments and input in deciding whether programs were ready to proceed to the next acquisition phase. However, S&T did not consistently document its review and approval of components' test agents--a government entity or independent contractor carrying out independent operational testing for a major acquisition--or document its review of other component acquisition documents, such as those establishing programs' operational requirements, as required by the T&E directive. We also reported in June 2011 that S&T and DHS component officials stated that they face challenges in overseeing T&E across DHS components which fell into 4 categories: (1) ensuring that a program's operational requirements--the key performance requirements that must be met for a program to achieve its intended goals--can be effectively tested; (2) working with DHS component program staff who have limited T&E expertise and experience; (3) using existing T&E directives and guidance to oversee complex information technology acquisitions; and (4) ensuring that components allow sufficient time for T&E while remaining within program cost and schedule estimates. Since 2009, S&T has undertaken a series of efforts related to its organizational structure. S&T underwent a new strategic planning process, developed new strategic goals, and conducted a reorganization intended to better achieve its strategic goals. These efforts were implemented after a 2009 National Academy of Public Administration study found that S&T's organizational structure posed communication challenges across the agency and that the agency lacked a cohesive strategic plan and mechanisms to assess performance in a systematic way, among other things. In August 2010, S&T reorganized to align its structure with its top strategic goals, allow for easier interaction among senior leadership, and reduce the number of personnel directly reporting to the Under Secretary of S&T.