GAO report criticizes DHS procurement

From USA Today:

A GAO report scheduled for release today says DHS has done a poor job overseeing the purchase of billions of dollars of equipment and technology since the agency was created five years ago.  Senior department officials have “not provided the oversight needed” to ensure that purchases “with important national security objectives” function properly and stay on budget.   The GAO said the main problem is that the department did not follow its own procedures, and blamed oversight problems on insufficient Homeland Security staff and limited attention paid by senior department officials.

Although previous audits have documented problems with individual programs, the GAO report is the first to review Homeland Security’s overall system of buying and maintaining $60 billion of new equipment and technology.

Rep. David Price (D-N.C.), head of the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees Homeland Security spending, said the department’s purchasing system needs an overhaul to protect billions in taxpayer funds.

Homeland Security spokesman Larry Orluskie referred a reporter to a statement attached to the GAO report that said many improvements have been made, including the creation of two oversight divisions. He added that other improvements will be made in the next two years.

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History and tips on the DHS grant award process

From HSToday:

A founder of the key homeland security grant program looks back at his handiwork and provides tips on grants and getting the most out of procurement dollars.

A few excerpts:

This year marks the fifth year of existence of DHS, as well as of the UASI program. To this day, the program undergoes changes and sometimes withering criticism concerning DHS’ application of the risk-based funding formula and funding decisions. As I look back now from the perspective of the private sector, I see that, while many UASI jurisdictions, in partnership with their states, do an excellent job of running their programs, there are always lessons learned and best practices to be conveyed.

The three core issues

To develop and run a productive UASI program, state and local leaders must focus on three main issues: establishing a governance and management structure; developing a homeland security strategy and implementation plan based on risk and need; and creating a process to develop, track and measure specific investments to enhance homeland security based upon that strategy and implementation plan.

Governance and management

We decided upon a system of checks and balances that would require the cities, counties and state agencies to work together in order to actually spend the grant money.

Procurement

A key functional area that often gets overlooked by most UASI jurisdictions and state and local governments is procurement.

For some UASI jurisdictions, the inability to quickly, efficiently and effectively spend grant funds results in serious delays in building the capabilities needed to increase homeland security. Most often, the delays have little to do with federal or state government rules. Rather, they are the result of antiquated local procurement laws and regulations that require time consuming and bureaucratic procedures to be followed that often add little value to the process.

Investment justifications

During my time at DHS, we didn’t require written and specific investment justifications to be submitted prior to awarding UASI funding (or any other funding) to states and urban areas. Beginning in 2005, DHS created this process and made it quasi-competitive, awarding funds based on an urban area’s terrorism risk profile and the quality of its investment justifications as scored by state and local peer review panels.

While I’ve taken issue with some of the specifics of how DHS manages this process, in total, I agree with its overall purpose of requiring significant pre-planning by states and urban areas consistent with their strategies and implementation plans before they get access to federal funds.

The lesson from all this: The investment justification process must be viewed as the culmination of a comprehensive, year-long, homeland security planning and implementation process and not simply as a 90-day event in order to ask for money from the federal government.

Perfecting procurement

Most homeland security operators don’t want to even try to fully understand their procurement process. The rules are often a cumbersome morass built incongruently atop each other, with many rules written because someone did something foolish in the past that must be prohibited in the future. Despite the unpleasantries of procurement, designing an effective procurement strategy is essential to acquiring the products and services needed to protect the homeland.

Tidbit: Panel wants larger DHS acquisition workforce

The House thinks DHS takes too long to review and award contracts, and has specified money in the FY2009 Homeland Security Appropriations Bill to address that by beefing up DHS acquisitions: