Key Issues > Duplication & Cost Savings > GAO's Action Tracker > Department of Homeland Security's Management of Acquisitions (2011-75)
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Homeland Security/Law Enforcement: Department of Homeland Security's Management of Acquisitions (2011-75)

Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) management of acquisitions could be strengthened to reduce inefficiencies, cost overruns, and schedule and performance shortfalls.

Action:

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) should ensure that requirements and cost estimates are well defined up front.

Progress:

As of December 2019, DHS had taken steps to ensure that requirements and cost estimates are well defined up front, as GAO suggested in its March 2011 report, but further efforts are needed to fully implement changes.

DHS updated its acquisition policy in February 2019 and the supporting instruction in May 2019, which adjusted the acquisition life cycle. Specifically, the updated instruction requires programs to conduct key technical reviews of program requirements and develop cost estimates prior to establishing the program's acquisition program baseline. As of November 2019, DHS was in the process of updating the related policies and guidance for its systems engineering life cycle, which guide the department's technical reviews. GAO will review these policies and guidance once completed to confirm alignment with the changes made to the acquisition management instruction. DHS took these actions following a 2017 GAO recommendation that DHS update its acquisition policy to require major acquisition programs’ technical requirements be well defined and key technical reviews be conducted before establishing their baselines. 

Until DHS fully documents these policy revisions, and components and programs then implement the policy as intended, to ensure requirements and cost estimates are well-defined, programs remain at risk of not delivering critical capabilities to the end users such as Border Patrol agents and transportation security officers. GAO will continue to assess the cost estimates and requirements of DHS’s major acquisition programs in its ongoing assessments.
 

Implementing Entity:

Department of Homeland Security

Action:

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) should establish and measure performance against department-approved baselines for major acquisition programs.

Progress:

DHS has addressed the need to establish and measure performance against department-approved baselines for major acquisition programs, as GAO suggested in March 2011. DHS has established an acquisition policy that reflects many key practices, requiring department-level approval of major acquisition programs’ baselines prior to the development of a new capability. However, in the past, DHS did not consistently implement its policy. In April 2014, GAO reported that 21 of 46 major DHS acquisition programs lacked Acquisition Program Baselines approved by the department as required. To address the inconsistency, DHS began prioritizing and tracking the completion of baselines across its major acquisition programs. As of July 2015, DHS had reduced the number of major acquisition programs that were missing baselines to 7. At that time, DHS's Under Secretary for Management issued memoranda requiring the components that oversee these 7 programs to submit the missing documentation by October 15, 2015. By January 2016, DHS had received and approved the baselines for all 7 of these programs.

DHS should continue to implement its acquisition policy in a consistent manner, as acquisition program baselines provide senior leaders with the critical knowledge they need to accurately measure major acquisition programs’ performance.

Implementing Entity:

Department of Homeland Security

Action:

To better assess and prioritize its investments, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) should ensure that its investment decisions are transparent and documented; budget decisions are informed by the results of acquisition reviews, including acquisition information, program alternatives, and cost estimates; sufficient management resources are identified and aligned, such as acquisition staff, to implement oversight reviews in a timely manner; and acquisition program requirements are reviewed and validated.

In April 2018, GAO expanded this action to consolidate it with action 5, which had suggested that DHS should take actions to help decision makers better assess and prioritize investments, including possible program alternatives that could be more cost-effective. This consolidated action remains focused on ways DHS could better manage, assess, and prioritize its investments.

Progress:

As of December 2019, DHS has taken steps to better assess and prioritize investments, meeting the intent of the actions GAO suggested in March 2011. 

Through its annual resource allocation process, DHS has taken steps to ensure that budget decisions are informed by the results of acquisition reviews and cost estimates and that sufficient resources are identified and aligned. Since April 2016, DHS has reported annual acquisition funding gaps in its annual funding report to Congress. Most recently, in April 2019, DHS added operations and sustainment information for major acquisition programs from all components. Over this period of time, DHS has also included a description of funding variance for all programs facing gaps. GAO’s review of the funding variance description found that it reflected prioritization decisions based on acquisition information, program alternatives, and cost estimates. 

To help ensure investment decisions are transparent and documented, DHS acquisition policy requires that the department’s acquisition decision authority document investment decisions through acquisition decision memorandums. In May 2019, this policy was updated to require that deviations from DHS's acquisition policy will also be documented in this memorandum. As part of GAO’s ongoing assessment process, GAO reviewed several of these and found that the documented actions reflect the updates to DHS's acquisition policy, including documentation of leadership approval for programs that deviated from requirements and trade-offs considered in these decisions.

DHS should continue to report on funding variance annually to Congress and continue to document investment decisions in acquisition decision memorandums. These changes will help DHS take a more strategic approach to prioritizing its investments and provide additional context to Congressional decision makers.

Implementing Entity:

Department of Homeland Security

Action:

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) could take further actions to improve its management of research and development (R&D) efforts and reduce costs in procuring and deploying programs that have not been fully tested, including rigorously testing devices using actual agency operational tactics before making decisions on acquisitions.

GAO has revised this action to more clearly focus on DHS acquisition management rather than DHS R&D, which is addressed separately in GAO’s April 2013 report, 2013 Annual Report: Actions Needed to Reduce Fragmentation, Overlap, and Duplication and Achieve Financial Benefits (GAO-13-279SP). Specifically, GAO suggests that DHS should ensure that testing of new technologies is completed and test results are addressed before making acquisition decisions.

Progress:

As of December 2019, DHS has taken steps to ensure testing of new technologies is complete and test results are addressed before making acquisition decisions, meeting the intent of the actions GAO suggested in March 2011. 

DHS acquisition policy requires that programs establish quantifiable and consistent criteria in order to move through the acquisition process. However, in the past DHS did not consistently implement its policy—in March 2011, GAO found a number of instances where programs advanced through the acquisition process without addressing identified shortfalls. To address the inconsistency, DHS updated its acquisition policy to include that DHS’s Director, Office of Test and Evaluation independently assess major acquisition programs’ operational test results to inform acquisition decisions, among other things. In October 2019, GAO reported DHS leadership generally used the test assessments in making acquisition decisions, and most programs generally received approval to progress through the acquisition process based on ratings in the assessment. Specifically, GAO reviewed 38 assessments of operational test events and found that in more than half of the cases (26 of 38), DHS leadership placed conditions on its approval or directed programs to address issues discovered during testing. 

DHS should continue to consider test results when making acquisition decisions because effective testing and evaluation can help reduce the risk that a new system will not be operationally effective and suitable. Results from the test and evaluation of major acquisition programs provide DHS leadership with valuable information to make risk-based decisions about the development and deployment of capabilities needed to execute the department’s many missions.
 

Implementing Entity:

Department of Homeland Security

Action:

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) should conduct cost-benefit analyses as part of research, development, and testing efforts, which would help DHS and congressional decision makers better assess and prioritize investment decisions, including assessing possible program alternatives that could be more cost-effective.

GAO has revised this action to more clearly focus on DHS acquisition management rather than DHS research and development (R&D), which is addressed separately in GAO’s April 2013 report, 2013 Annual Report: Actions Needed to Reduce Fragmentation, Overlap, and Duplication and Achieve Financial Benefits (GAO-13-279SP). Specifically, GAO suggests that DHS should take actions to help decision makers better assess and prioritize investments, including possible program alternatives that could be more cost-effective.

Progress:

In April 2018 GAO consolidated this action with action 3 in the same area. Over the years, GAO and DHS have taken steps that led to this action and action 3 becoming closely related. In 2013, GAO revised this action to focus on DHS’s assessment and prioritization of investments and possible alternatives, which was similar to the suggestion in action 3 that investment decisions should be informed by acquisition reviews. Meanwhile, DHS has undertaken a number of acquisition management initiatives over the years, such as evaluating program alternatives for affordability, regularly reviewing acquisition programs, and assessing acquisitions within the context of its broader investment portfolio and budget constraints. These initiatives have led to higher levels of integration between acquisition oversight and investment decisions, which is the combined focus of actions 3 and 5.

GAO will continue to monitor DHS’s progress toward more effective assessment and prioritization of its investments through action 3.

Implementing Entity:

Department of Homeland Security
  • portrait of
    • Marie A. Mak
    • Director, Contracting and National Security Acquisitions
    • makm@gao.gov
    • (202) 512-4841