Homeland Security Acquisitions: Outcomes Have Improved but Actions Needed to Enhance Oversight of Schedule Goals

GAO-20-170SP Published: Dec 19, 2019. Publicly Released: Dec 19, 2019.
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Fast Facts

This fiscal year, DHS plans to spend over $10 billion to acquire major systems (e.g., systems to help enhance cybersecurity and improve disaster response).

Of the 27 major acquisition programs we reviewed, 25 were meeting current goals for schedule and cost—an increase from 2017.

We also reviewed how these programs established cost, schedule, and performance goals. Generally, we could trace the cost and performance goals back to the plans and information used to set them—but not the schedule goals. So, DHS leaders may be approving schedules that don’t match execution plans. We recommended better oversight to improve how schedule goals are set.

A Helicopter DHS Acquired from the U.S. Army

A helicopter in flight

A helicopter in flight

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What GAO Found

As of August 2019, 25 of the 27 Department of Homeland Security (DHS) programs GAO assessed that had approved schedule and cost goals were on track to meet current goals. The remaining two programs breached their schedule or cost goals. This represents an improvement since GAO's last review. However, GAO found that some of the programs that were on track as of August 2019 are at risk of not meeting cost or schedule goals or both in the future. For example, the U.S. Coast Guard's Offshore Patrol Cutter program faces potential cost increases and schedule slips in the future as a result of damages to the shipbuilder's facility from Hurricane Michael in October 2018.

Traceability, which is called for in DHS policy and GAO scheduling best practices, helps ensure that program goals are aligned with program execution plans, and that a program's various stakeholders have an accurate and consistent understanding of those plans and goals. Of the 27 programs GAO assessed, 21 had established baselines after DHS updated its acquisition policy in March 2016 (the most current version of the policy at the beginning of this review). GAO found that the 21 programs' baseline cost and performance goals generally traced to source documents, such as life-cycle cost estimates and planned performance outcomes. However, schedule goals did not generally match up to the programs' integrated master schedules (IMS), as required by DHS acquisition management instruction and as a best practice identified in GAO's Schedule Assessment Guide (see figure).

Traceability of Acquisition Program Baselines Established after March 2016 to Cost, Schedule, and Performance Documents

Traceability of Acquisition Program Baselines Established after March 2016 to Cost, Schedule, and Performance Documents

The lack of traceability between IMSs and schedule goals in the approved acquisition program baselines (APB) indicates that DHS does not have appropriate oversight processes in place to ensure that schedules are accurately reflected in program baselines, in accordance with DHS policy and GAO's best practices. Therefore, DHS cannot ensure that the understanding of program schedules among different stakeholders, including component and DHS leadership is consistent and accurate. As a result, DHS leadership may be approving program schedule goals that do not align with program execution plans.

Why GAO Did This Study

Each year, the DHS invests billions of dollars in a diverse portfolio of major acquisition programs to help execute its many critical missions. DHS plans to spend more than $10 billion on these programs in fiscal year 2020 alone. DHS's acquisition activities are on GAO's High Risk List, in part, because of management and funding issues. The Explanatory Statement accompanying the DHS Appropriations Act, 2015 included a provision for GAO to review DHS's major acquisitions on an ongoing basis.

This report, GAO's fifth review, assesses the extent to which: (1) DHS's major acquisition programs are on track to meet their schedule and cost goals, and (2) current program baselines trace to key acquisition documents.

GAO assessed 27 acquisition programs, including DHS's largest programs that were in the process of obtaining new capabilities as of April 2018, and programs GAO or DHS identified as at risk of poor outcomes. GAO assessed cost and schedule progress against baselines; compared APB cost, schedule and performance parameters to underlying documents used in establishing baselines; and interviewed DHS officials.

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GAO is making two recommendations, including that DHS put in place an oversight process to ensure that programs' schedule goals are developed and updated according to GAO's scheduling best practices. DHS concurred with GAO's recommendations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Office of the Secretary for DHS The Secretary of Homeland Security should ensure that the Undersecretary for Management develops an oversight process to confirm that programs' schedule goals are developed and updated in accordance with GAO's Schedule Assessment Guide, to include ensuring traceability between APB schedule goals and IMSs. (Recommendation 1)
Closed – Implemented
In providing comments on this report, DHS concurred with our recommendation and stated that the Management Directorate's Office of Program Accountability and Risk Management (PARM) developed a checklist based on GAO's Schedule Assessment Guide, among other things, to evaluate programs' IMSs. In July 2020, PARM officials reported that the schedule checklist was already being used to evaluate and ensure program IMSs adhered to GAO's Schedule Assessment Guide. In September 2021, PARM developed an Integrated Master Schedule Handbook which is intended to provide supplemental guidance to Component Acquisition Executives (CAE) and acquisition program staff responsible for building IMSs and APBs.
Office of the Secretary for DHS The Secretary of Homeland Security should ensure that the Undersecretary for Management revises the schedule development guidance in the Systems Engineering Life Cycle Guidebook to state clearly that an IMS should be used as the basis for APB schedule goals. (Recommendation 2)
Closed – Implemented
DHS concurred with this recommendation, stating that the Management Directorate's Office of Program Accountability and Risk Management (PARM) was in the process of revising the Systems Engineering Life Cycle (SELC) Instruction and the accompanying SELC Guidebook and would clarify the language relating to IMSs to ensure guidance is consistent. DHS published a revised version of its SELC Instruction and the accompanying SELC Guidebook in February 2021 and May 2021, respectively. The SELC Guidebook clearly refers readers to DHS's acquisition instruction for specific guidance related to APBs and IMSs. These actions eliminate conflicting guidance and meet the intent of our recommendation.

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