Homeland Security Acquisitions:

DHS Should Better Define Oversight Roles and Improve Program Reporting to Congress

GAO-15-292: Published: Mar 12, 2015. Publicly Released: Mar 16, 2015.

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What GAO Found

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has taken steps to improve oversight of major acquisition programs, but it lacks written guidance for a consistent approach to day-to-day oversight. Federal Standards for Internal Control call for organizations to define and document key areas of responsibility in order to effectively plan, direct, and control operations to achieve agency objectives. DHS has defined the role of the Component Acquisition Executive, the senior acquisition official within each component, and established monthly meetings to discuss programs that require management attention. However, DHS has not defined all of the roles and responsibilities of the Office of Program Accountability and Risk Management (PARM)—the lead body responsible for overseeing the acquisition process and assessing the status of acquisition programs—and other headquarters organizations. GAO also found that officials' involvement and relationships with components varied significantly. DHS does not have a structure in place for overseeing the costs of 42 programs in sustainment (that is, programs that have been fielded and are operational) for which acquisition documentation requirements were waived in 2013. Sustainment costs can account for more than 80 percent of total costs, and all but one of these programs lack an approved cost estimate. GAO also previously reported that cost estimates are necessary to support decisions about program funding and resources.

The most recent data that PARM provided to DHS and congressional decision makers for oversight were not consistently accurate and up-to-date. Specifically, PARM's fiscal year 2014 Comprehensive Acquisition Status Report (CASR), which was based on fiscal year 2013 data, contained inaccurate information on DHS acquisition programs. To develop the CASR, PARM drew from DHS's official system for acquisition program reporting, the Next Generation Periodic Reporting System (nPRS); however, the system is hampered by data issues, including inconsistent participation by program officials responsible for entering the data. Further, DHS has not provided useful information for certain CASR reporting requirements. DHS interpreted one requirement in a way that eliminated the need to report cost, schedule, or performance changes for almost half of the programs in the CASR. Holding programs accountable for maintaining their data in nPRS and providing decision makers with more in-depth information would enhance future acquisition reports and render the CASR a more effective instrument for DHS and congressional oversight.

GAO Assessment of the DHS Comprehensive Acquisition Status Report Development Process

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Why GAO Did This Study

In fiscal year 2014, DHS reported it planned to spend approximately $10.7 billion on its major acquisition programs. DHS acquires systems to reduce the probability of a terrorist attack, protect against disease, mitigate natural hazards, and secure borders. Partially in response to GAO recommendations, the department has taken steps to improve acquisition management in recent years, but has not yet implemented many of these recommendations.

GAO was asked to review DHS's oversight of its major acquisition programs. This report addresses (1) steps DHS has taken to improve oversight and gaps that exist, if any, and (2) whether the data PARM provides to DHS and congressional decision makers are accurate and up-to-date.

GAO reviewed DHS policies and procedures and interviewed oversight and acquisition officials from all nine DHS components with at least one major acquisition program with a life-cycle cost estimate exceeding $1 billion. From these components, GAO selected a non-generalizable sample of nine major acquisition programs with a variety of characteristics to compare PARM oversight activities and review program data.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that DHS take a number of actions including developing written guidance for a consistent approach to oversight, addressing programs in sustainment, and enhancing data quality and reports to Congress. DHS concurred with GAO's recommendations.

For more information, contact Michele Mackin at (202) 512-4841 or mackinm@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DHS concurred with this recommendation, and responded to it while our draft report was out for comment. Specifically, in February 2015, DHS's Office of Program Accountability and Risk Management (PARM) issued a Component Lead Handbook. This handbook provides oversight roles and responsibilities and other guidance to PARM component leads in their job to oversee component programs.

    Recommendation: In order to help ensure consistent, effective oversight of DHS's acquisition programs, the Secretary of DHS should direct PARM to develop written guidance that defines roles and responsibilities of its component leads.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DHS concurred with this recommendation, and issued written guidance to address it. Specifically, in April 2015, DHS's Acting Deputy Under Secretary for Management issued an Acquisition Decision Memorandum regarding the clarification of acquisition oversight roles and responsibilities. The purpose of this memorandum was to clarify the respective acquisition responsibilities of the Office of Program Accountability and Risk Management (PARM), the Office of the Chief Information Officer (CIO), and other members of DHS's Acquisition Review Board. While the guidance does not specifically mention OCIO's EBMO, it shows that the roles of PARM and CIO differ in DHS's acquisition process, with one articulated exception - these offices are designated as the co-approval authorities for select systems engineering plans.

    Recommendation: In order to help ensure consistent, effective oversight of DHS's acquisition programs, the Secretary of DHS should direct the USM to develop written guidance to clarify roles and responsibilities of PARM and OCIO-EBMO for conducting oversight of major acquisition programs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DHS concurred with this recommendation, and issued written guidance to address it. Specifically, in April 2015, DHS's Acting Deputy Under Secretary for Management issued an Acquisition Decision Memorandum regarding overseeing and tracking costs of acquisition programs in sustainment. This memorandum directed DHS's components to update the operations and maintenance cost estimates, as well as affirm the lifespans, of their identified programs in sustainment. This guidance also emphasized that, in conjunction with DHS's Management Directive 102-01, Component Acquisition Executives are responsible for the oversight and tracking of programs in sustainment throughout the operational lifecycle until retirement.

    Recommendation: In order to help ensure consistent, effective oversight of DHS's acquisition programs, the Secretary of DHS should direct the USM to produce operations and maintenance cost estimates for programs in sustainment and establish responsibility for tracking sustainment programs' adherence to those estimates.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  4. Status: Open

    Comments: DHS concurred with this recommendation, and stated that they are taking actions to address it. DHS noted that the Under Secretary for Management has directed the Component Acquisition Executives to be the primary accountability officials to certify that the program offices enter timely and accurate information into the Next Generation Periodic Reporting System (nPRS). In addition, DHS is working to integrate nPRS with the Investment Management System in order to streamline its data collection, entry, and reporting process.

    Recommendation: In order to help ensure consistent, effective oversight of DHS's acquisition programs, the Secretary of DHS should direct the USM to determine mechanisms to hold programs accountable for entering data in nPRS consistently and accurately and to hold CAEs accountable for validating the information. Also, evaluate the root causes of why programs are not using nPRS as intended.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  5. Status: Open

    Comments: DHS concurred with this recommendation, and stated that they are taking actions to address it. DHS noted that the Office of Program Accountability and Risk Management (PARM) has updated its template for the Comprehensive Acquisition Status Report (CASR). In addition, PARM is working with the Components to identify the reporting information not currently contained in their source systems. PARM intends to include the revised reporting information when it submits the CASR to Congress in fiscal year 2016.

    Recommendation: In order to help ensure consistent, effective oversight of DHS's acquisition programs, and to make the CASR more useful, starting with the report reflecting fiscal year 2015 program data, the Secretary of DHS should adjust the CASR to do the following: (1) report an individual rating for each program's cost, schedule, and technical risks; (2) report a best estimate of procurement quantities or indicate why this is not applicable, as appropriate; (3) report all programs' significant changes in acquisition cost, quantity, or schedule from the previous CASR report by determining a means to account for programs that lack acquisition program baselines; (4) report major program events that are included in acquisition program baselines, such as scheduled acquisition decision events; and (5) report the level at which the program's life-cycle cost estimate was approved.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

 

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