Homeland Security Criticized For Lax Acquisition Management - InformationWeek
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Homeland Security Criticized For Lax Acquisition Management

Inspector general finds agency is not providing adequate oversight or communicating effectively with internal organizations to help them manage $55.3 billion in purchases each year.

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The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) lacks oversight and management when it comes to integrating how acquisitions are handled department-wide, according to a report released by a government auditing agency.

The DHS allocated $55.3 billion in fiscal year 2010 for acquisitions, $9.2 billion of which was for procurement costs, according to a report by the agency's inspector general (IG) that examined the strengths and weaknesses of the department's acquisition management.

The DHS has multiple sub-organizations or "components," as the IG calls them--such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)--that are responsible for their own acquisitions if they fall below a $300 million cost threshold. The department oversees acquisitions of more than $300 million.

The DHS as a whole has tools and guidance in place that each component should use to make their acquisitions and is in charge of managing the overall acquisitions process. However, the department is not sufficiently managing, nor clearly articulating, how individual organizations are to use those tools and guidance, according to the report.

The DHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the report.

The IG said it received conflicting responses when it asked department organizations for a list of acquisitions programs that are managed by the DHS acquisition lifecycle framework. Organizations said they were unclear when they should manage an acquisition under the framework or as a simple procurement, according to the IG. The framework asserts more established controls over an acquisition than procurement does.

For example, FEMA personnel told the IG that it didn't know whether to classify large service contracts as acquisitions programs or handle them as procurements. When asked for a list of FEMA's acquisition programs, the agency told the IG it could not provide a complete list because it was in the process of reorganizing them. Eventually, FEMA offered a draft of its list of programs but did not provide IG with a final list by the end of the audit period, which took place from January to August 2010.

The DHS also has not been proactive in ensuring its components have developed policies and procedures to oversee their acquisition programs. The IG reviewed the component policies and procedures of 12 department organizations, including FEMA, TSA, ICE, the U.S. Coast Guard, and Science and Technology. Of them, only four had created and issued finalized acquisition policies, five had drafts, and three did not provide any policies or procedures at all.

To remedy these and other problems it found with the DHS acquisition process, the IG is recommending the DHS develop a decision matrix tool to provide guidance on whether to handle an acquisition as a simple procurement or according to the lifecycle management process.

It also is advising the department to direct all of its components to report all of their acquisition programs to the DHS acquisition reporting system.

The DHS also should require all of its internal departments to consider using federal tools such as the General Services Administration Schedule in the planning phase of an acquisition; as well as provide a plan of action or deadline for all components to finalize acquisition management policies and procedures.

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