Department of Homeland Security:

Further Action Needed to Improve Management of Special Acquisition Authority

GAO-12-557: Published: May 8, 2012. Publicly Released: May 8, 2012.

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Contact:

William T. Woods
(202) 512-4841
woodsw@gao.gov

 

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What GAO Found

In the last 8 years, the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate has used its special acquisition authority to enter into 58 “other transaction” agreements. Use of the authority has declined since 2005. DHS officials said the decline is due to uncertainty about the agency’s continuing authority to enter into these agreements, among other things.

DHS has made progress in addressing challenges and prior GAO recommendations related to its use of other transaction agreements in five areas.

GAO’s analysis of DHS’s files and reports to Congress found gaps in the collection and reporting of information on other transactions. Specifically:

  • DHS does not consistently document the rationale for entering into an other transaction agreement in the agreement analysis document, although DHS guidance requires it to do so.
  • Recent annual reports to Congress did not contain information on all other transaction agreements.
  • DHS does not collect information on the circumstances that permit the use of other transaction authority throughout the life of the agreement.

Without complete information about the universe of other transaction agreements, neither Congress nor DHS can have full visibility into the use of this authority.

Why GAO Did This Study

When DHS was created in 2002, Congress granted it special acquisition authority to use “other transaction” agreements, which are special vehicles used for research and development or prototype projects. Unlike conventional contracts, other transaction agreements offer flexibilities to reach entities that traditionally have not done business with the government. They have risks, however, because they are exempt from the Federal Acquisition Regulation and other requirements.

The Homeland Security Act of 2002 required GAO to report on the use of other transactions by DHS. In 2004 and 2008, GAO reported on challenges DHS faced. This report covers (1) the DHS Science and Technology Directorate’s use of other transactions, (2) DHS’s progress in addressing challenges, and (3) the information collected on the use of the authority and reported to Congress. GAO examined all 27 available other transaction agreement files, reviewed DHS’s other transaction policies and procedures, and interviewed cognizant officials.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that DHS (1) develop an action plan with specific time frames for fully implementing GAO’s prior recommendation on data collection and congressional reporting, (2) ensure full implementation of its guidance regarding documentation, and (3) establish a policy for reviewing the circumstances that permit the use of other transaction authority throughout the life of the agreement. DHS agreed with these recommendations.

For more information, contact William T. Woods at (202) 512-4841 or woodsw@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In providing comments on this report, DHS concurred with this recommendation. In August 2012, DHS provided a copy of its action plan. The action plan has specific dates and requires the Office of Procurement Policy and the Science and Technology Acquisition Division to collect and track relevant data on other transaction agreements, including information about the role of the nontraditional contractor. It also states that the data will be assessed and relevant information will be included in DHS's annual report to Congress.

    Recommendation: To promote the efficient and effective use by DHS of its other transaction authority to meet its mission needs, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Under Secretary for Management to establish an action plan with specific time frames for fully implementing the prior GAO recommendation to establish a mechanism to collect and track relevant data on other transaction agreements, including the role of the nontraditional contractor, and systematically assess the data and report to Congress.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In providing comments on this report, DHS concurred with this recommendation. In August 2012, DHS provided a copy of its action plan, with specific dates and tasks, to document lessons learned and agreement analysis. To document lessons learned, the Office of Procurement Operations (OPO) and the Science and Technology Acquisition Division (STAD) are conducing close out activities for all completed other transaction agreements. Science and Technology Division program managers are reaching out to prime other transaction agreement recipients to gather lessons learned from active other transaction agreements. OPO will post those lessons learned on a shared website. The action plan also contains specific timeframes for implementing DHS guidance to document agreement analysis. Specifically, OPO and STAD will provide guidance to contract officers to document agreement analysis. For the other transaction agreements missing an agreement analysis document, OPO and STAD are writing that document to include in the file.

    Recommendation: To promote the efficient and effective use by DHS of its other transaction authority to meet its mission needs, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Under Secretary for Management to establish an action plan with specific time frames to help ensure full implementation of DHS other transaction guidance, regarding (1) documentation of lessons learned and (2) documentation of the agreement analysis.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In providing comments on this report, the agency concurred with this recommendation. On October 12, 2012, DHS approved an interim change to its Other Transactions for Research and Prototype Projects Guide. The interim change calls for the review and documentation of circumstances permitting the use of other transaction authority at each new phase of the other transaction agreement to determine if the continued use of an other transaction agreement is still appropriate. The interim policy guidance was effective immediately and incorporated into the Other Transactions for Research and Prototype Projects Guide (Version 1.1) in September 2013.

    Recommendation: To promote the efficient and effective use by DHS of its other transaction authority to meet its mission needs, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Under Secretary for Management to establish a policy to review and document the circumstances permitting the use of other transaction authority at each new phase, throughout the life of the agreement, to determine if the continued use of an other transaction agreement is appropriate.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

 

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