Homeland Security Acquisitions: DHS Has Opportunities to Improve Its Component Acquisition Oversight

GAO-21-77 Published: Oct 20, 2020. Publicly Released: Oct 20, 2020.
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Fast Facts

The Department of Homeland Security's Chief Acquisition Officer designates Component Acquisition Executives to oversee each component's acquisition programs and policies, the acquisition workforce, and program data collection and reporting.

But DHS can't be sure all of these executives are qualified or that they're consistently fulfilling all of their acquisition-related responsibilities. For example, of the 5 such executives in DHS's Management Directorate, 4 hadn't been vetted for the role, and only 2 had been officially designated.

We made recommendations to help DHS ensure that its executives are qualified to oversee component acquisitions.

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Highlights

What GAO Found

Four components—Transportation Security Administration, Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection, and the Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office—within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) implemented the process to formally nominate and designate Component Acquisition Executives (CAE). However, four of the five individuals filling the CAE role—three as acting CAE—in the Management Directorate have not been subjected to this process (see figure). The process, described in guidance, entails preparing a nomination package for DHS to vet candidates' qualifications against criteria, and designating the selected individual in writing.

Nomination and Designation Status of Department of Homeland Security's Management Directorate Component Acquisition Executives as of April 2020

Nomination and Designation Status of Department of Homeland Security's Management Directorate Component Acquisition Executives as of April 2020

Note: Non-major acquisitions are those with an expected life-cycle cost of less than $300 million.

DHS indicated that the direct reporting relationship of acting CAEs to the DHS Chief Acquisition Officer makes designating CAEs in the Management Directorate through this process unnecessary. Without using the nomination and designation process, DHS officials lack a standard way to gain insight into the background of the acting CAEs and whether any gaps in experience need to be mitigated. For example, the CAE for the Coast Guard was nominated and designated, but the CAE did not have the acquisition experience that guidance suggests for the position. In the nomination documentation, the Coast Guard identified this issue and described the experienced staff that will support the nominated CAE. However, DHS cannot be confident that the acting CAEs in the Management Directorate are taking mitigation steps, because they have not been subject to this process. Until DHS consistently executes the nomination and designation process described in its guidance, the Chief Acquisition Officer cannot be assured that all acquisition programs are receiving oversight by individuals qualified for the CAE position.

Why GAO Did This Study

DHS invests billions of dollars each year in its major acquisition programs—such as systems to help secure the border, increase marine safety, and screen travelers—to help execute its many critical missions. In fiscal year 2020 alone, DHS planned to spend more than $10 billion on major acquisition programs, and ultimately the department plans to invest more than $200 billion over the life cycle of these programs. A critical aspect of DHS's acquisition process is oversight of this portfolio by the CAEs. Most CAEs are senior acquisition officials below the department level, within the components. The CAEs have oversight responsibilities over the components' major and non-major acquisition programs, among other duties.

GAO was asked to review DHS's CAE functions. This report assesses the extent to which selected CAEs are nominated and designated to execute oversight responsibilities, among other objectives. GAO selected five DHS components, including the department-level Management Directorate, based, in part, on their number and type of acquisitions. GAO reviewed DHS's acquisition policy, guidance and documentation from the selected DHS components and interviewed CAEs, CAE support staff, and other DHS officials.

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Recommendations

GAO is making four recommendations, including that DHS execute the CAE nomination and designation process consistently as defined in its guidance. DHS concurred with all four recommendations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Homeland Security The Under Secretary for Management should ensure that the Office of Program Accountability and Risk Management and component heads execute the Component Acquisition Executive nomination and designation process consistently, as described in its guidance. This should include nominating and designating Component Acquisition Executives to oversee all acquisition programs. (Recommendation 1)
Closed – Implemented
DHS concurred with this recommendation. In March 2021, DHS reported that it revised Component Acquisition Executive (CAE) nomination procedures in January 2021 and is reviewing new CAE nominations and existing CAE positions using the revised procedures. In September 2022, PARM provided additional documentation of their analysis of CAE nominations, as well as designation memos, for components that needed CAE designations.
Department of Homeland Security The Under Secretary for Management should ensure that the Component Acquisition Executives that are responsible for oversight of acquisition programs comply with Department of Homeland Security direction to complete Component Acquisition Executive support staffing plans. (Recommendation 2)
Open – Partially Addressed
DHS concurred with this recommendation and, in March 2021, reported that it is updating related policy to address this recommendation. In May 2022, the Acting Under Secretary for Management updated acquisition staffing policy to clarify that CAE support functions update staffing plans annually.
Department of Homeland Security The Under Secretary for Management should identify, in policy or guidance, the expertise that constitutes critical acquisition positions for effective Component Acquisition Executive oversight. (Recommendation 3)
Open
DHS concurred with this recommendation and, in May 2022, the Acting Under Secretary for Management updated acquisition staffing policy to clarify that CAE support functions may identify critical positions in key acquisition disciplines outside of program management. However, the policy does not specify the critical positions in key disciplines that provide the minimum expertise needed to support oversight of cost, schedule, and performance, and instead leaves the discretion to each CAE function.
Department of Homeland Security The Under Secretary for Management should direct the Office of Program Accountability and Risk Management to establish a time frame for completing its assessment of the Investment Evaluation, Submission, and Tracking (INVEST) system data fields for which the Component Acquisition Executive certification is necessary, based on current use and reporting requirements, and take appropriate actions based on the results. (Recommendation 4)
Closed – Implemented
DHS concurred with this recommendation and reported that, beginning in January 2021, DHS's Office of Program Accountability and Risk Management has conducted discussions with stakeholders to finalize Investment Evaluation, Submission, and Tracking (INVEST) data requirements as part of an analysis to determine whether the semiannual data validation requirement was still necessary, and whether the same data could be found in other source systems. Based off this analysis, the Acting Under Secretary for Management issued a memorandum to the CAEs in February 2022 that eliminated the semi-annual CAE requirement to validate INVEST data.

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