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United States Government Accountability Office: 

Testimony before the Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations, and 
Management, Committee on Homeland Security, House of Representatives: 

For Release on Delivery: 
Expected at 10:00 a.m. EDT:
Friday, July 15, 2011: 

Homeland Security: 

DHS Could Strengthen Acquisitions and Development of New Technologies: 

Statement of David C. Maurer, Director:
Homeland Security and Justice Issues: 


Chairman McCaul, Ranking Member Keating, and Members of the 

I am pleased to be here today to discuss our past work examining the 
Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) progress and challenges in 
developing and acquiring new technologies to address homeland security 
needs. DHS acquisition programs represent hundreds of billions of 
dollars in life-cycle costs and support a wide range of missions and 
investments including border surveillance and screening equipment, 
nuclear detection equipment, and technologies used to screen airline 
passengers and baggage for explosives, among others. Since its 
creation in 2003, DHS has spent billions of dollars developing and 
procuring technologies and other countermeasures to address various 
threats and to conduct its missions. Within DHS, the Science and 
Technology Directorate (S&T) conducts general research and development 
and oversees the testing and evaluation efforts of DHS components, 
which are responsible for developing, testing, and acquiring their own 
technologies. For example, the Transportation Security Administration 
(TSA) is responsible for securing the nation's transportation systems 
and, with S&T, researching, developing, and deploying technologies to, 
for example, screen airline passengers and their baggage. U.S. Customs 
and Border Protection (CBP) is responsible for implementing measures 
and technologies to secure the nation's borders. In recent years, we 
have reported that DHS has experienced challenges in managing its 
multibillion-dollar acquisition efforts, including implementing 
technologies that did not meet intended requirements and were not 
appropriately tested and evaluated, and has not consistently included 
completed analyses of costs and benefits before technologies were 

My testimony today focuses on the key findings of our prior work 
related to DHS's efforts to acquire and deploy new technologies to 
address homeland security needs. Our past work has identified three 
key challenges: (1) developing technology program requirements, (2) 
conducting and completing testing and evaluation of technologies and 
(3) incorporating information on costs and benefits in making 
technology acquisition decisions. This statement will also discuss 
recent DHS efforts to strengthen its investment and acquisition 

This statement is based on reports and testimonies we issued from May 
2009 through July 2011 related to DHS's efforts to manage, test, and 
deploy various technology programs and selected updates conducted in 
July 2011 related to DHS's efforts to strengthen its investment and 
acquisition processes.[Footnote 1] For the updates, we reviewed recent 
DHS efforts to strengthen its investment and acquisition processes, 
such as a June 2011 DHS report on the department's progress and 
efforts in addressing challenges identified in our biennial reports 
addressing high-risk management issues.[Footnote 2] For our past work, 
we reviewed program schedules, planning documents, testing reports, 
and other acquisition documentation. For some of the programs we 
discuss in this testimony, we conducted site visits to a range of 
facilities, such as national laboratories, airports, and other 
locations to observe research, development, and testing efforts. We 
also conducted interviews with DHS component program managers and S&T 
officials to discuss issues related to individual programs. We 
conducted this work in accordance with generally accepted government 
auditing standards. More detailed information on the scope and 
methodology from our previous work can be found within each specific 

DHS Has Experienced Challenges in Developing and Meeting Key 
Performance Requirements for Various Technologies: 

Our past work has found that program performance cannot be accurately 
assessed without valid baseline requirements established at the 
program start. Without the development, review, and approval of key 
acquisition documents, such as the mission need statement, agencies 
are at risk of having poorly defined requirements that can negatively 
affect program performance and contribute to increased costs.[Footnote 
3] We have also identified technologies that DHS has deployed that 
have not met key performance requirements. For example, in June 2010, 
we reported that over half of the 15 DHS programs we reviewed awarded 
contracts to initiate acquisition activities without component or 
department approval of documents essential to planning acquisitions, 
setting operational requirements, and establishing acquisition program 
baselines.[Footnote 4] We made a number of recommendations to help 
address these issues as discussed below. DHS has generally agreed with 
these recommendations and, to varying degrees, has taken actions to 
address them. 

In addition, our past work has found that DHS faces challenges in 
identifying and meeting program requirements in a number of its 
programs. For example: 

* In July 2011, we reported that TSA revised its explosive detection 
system (EDS) requirements to better address current threats and plans 
to implement these requirements in a phased approach. However, we 
reported that only some of the EDSs in TSA's fleet are configured to 
detect explosives at the levels established in the 2005 requirements. 
The remaining EDSs are configured to detect explosives at 1998 levels. 
When TSA established the 2005 requirements, it did not have a plan 
with the appropriate time frames needed to deploy EDSs to meet the 
requirements. To help ensure that EDSs are operating most effectively, 
we recommended that TSA develop a plan to deploy and operate EDSs to 
meet the most recent requirements to ensure new and currently deployed 
EDSs are operated at the levels in established requirements. DHS 
concurred with our recommendation.[Footnote 5] 

* In September 2010, we reported that the Domestic Nuclear Detection 
Office (DNDO) was simultaneously engaged in the research and 
development phase while planning for the acquisition phase of its 
cargo advanced automated radiography system to detect certain nuclear 
materials in vehicles and containers at ports.[Footnote 6] DNDO 
pursued the deployment of the cargo advanced automated radiography 
system without fully understanding the physical requirements of 
incorporating the system in existing inspection lanes at ports of 
entry. We reported that this occurred because, during the first year 
or more of the program, DNDO and CBP had few discussions about 
operating requirements for primary inspection lanes at ports of entry. 
DHS spent $113 million on the program since 2005 and canceled the 
development phase of the program in 2007. 

* In May 2010, we reported that not all of the Secure Border 
Initiative Network (SBInet) operational requirements that pertain to 
Block 1 were achievable, verifiable, unambiguous, and complete. 
[Footnote 7] For example, a November 2007 DHS assessment found 
problems with 19 operational requirements, which form the basis for 
the lower-level requirements used to design and build the system. As a 
result, we recommended that the Block 1 requirements, including key 
performance parameters, be independently validated as complete, 
verifiable, and affordable and any limitations found in the 
requirements be addressed. DHS agreed with these recommendations and 
CBP program officials told us that they recognized the difficulties 
they experienced with requirements development practices with the 
SBInet program. In January 2011, the Secretary of Homeland Security 
announced her decision to end the program as originally conceived 
because it did not meet cost-effectiveness and viability standards. 
[Footnote 8] 

* In October 2009, we reported that TSA passenger screening checkpoint 
technologies were delayed because TSA had not consistently 
communicated clear requirements for testing the technologies.[Footnote 
9] We recommended that TSA evaluate whether current passenger 
screening procedures should be revised to require the use of 
appropriate screening procedures until TSA determined that existing 
emerging technologies meet its functional requirements in an 
operational environment. TSA agreed with this recommendation and 
reported taking actions to address it. 

DHS Has Encountered Challenges in Conducting and Completing Testing 
and Evaluation: 

Our prior work has also identified that failure to resolve problems 
discovered during testing can sometimes lead to costly redesign and 
rework at a later date and that addressing such problems during the 
testing and evaluation phase before moving to the acquisition phase 
can help agencies avoid future cost overruns. Specifically: 

* In March 2011, we reported that the independent testing and 
evaluation of SBInet's Block 1 capability to determine its operational 
effectiveness and suitability was not complete at the time DHS reached 
its decision regarding the future of SBInet or requested fiscal year 
2012 funding to deploy the new Alternative (Southwest) Border 
Technology.[Footnote 10] We reported that because the Alternative 
(Southwest) Border Technology incorporates a mix of technology, 
including an Integrated Fixed Tower surveillance system similar to 
that currently used in SBInet, the testing and evaluation could have 
informed DHS's decision about moving forward with the new technology 

* In September 2010, we reported that S&T's plans for conducting 
operational testing of container security technologies did not reflect 
all of the operational scenarios that CBP was considering for 
implementation.[Footnote 11] We reported that until the container 
security technologies are tested and evaluated consistent with all of 
the operational scenarios, S&T cannot provide reasonable assurance 
that the technologies will function as intended. For example, S&T did 
not include certain scenarios necessary to test how a cargo container 
would be transported throughout the maritime supply chain. We 
recommended that DHS test and evaluate the container security 
technologies consistent with all the operational scenarios DHS 
identified for potential implementation. DHS concurred with our 

* In October 2009, we reported that TSA deployed explosives trace 
portals, a technology for detecting traces of explosives on passengers 
at airport checkpoints, even though TSA officials were aware that 
tests conducted during 2004 and 2005 on earlier models of the portals 
suggested the portals did not demonstrate reliable performance in an 
airport environment.[Footnote 12] TSA also lacked assurance that the 
portals would meet functional requirements in airports within 
estimated costs and the machines were more expensive to install and 
maintain than expected. In June 2006, TSA halted deployment of the 
explosives trace portals because of performance problems and high 
installation costs. We recommended that to the extent feasible, TSA 
ensure that tests are completed before deploying checkpoint screening 
technologies to airports. DHS concurred with the recommendation and 
has taken action to address it, such as requiring more-recent 
technologies to complete both laboratory and operational tests prior 
to deployment. 

DHS Has Not Consistently Incorporated Information on Costs and 
Benefits in Making Acquisition Decisions: 

Our prior work has shown that cost-benefit analyses help congressional 
and agency decision makers assess and prioritize resource investments 
and consider potentially more cost-effective alternatives and that 
without this ability, agencies are at risk of experiencing cost 
overruns, missed deadlines, and performance shortfalls. For example, 
we have reported that DHS has not consistently included these analyses 
in its acquisition decision making. Specifically: 

* In March 2011, we reported that the decision by the Secretary of 
Homeland Security to end the SBInet program was informed by, among 
other things, an independent analysis of cost-effectiveness.[Footnote 
13] However, it was not clear how DHS used the results to determine 
the appropriate technology plans and budget decisions, especially 
since the results of SBInet's operational effectiveness were not 
complete at the time of the Secretary's decision to end the program. 
Furthermore, the cost analysis was limited in scope and did not 
consider all technology solutions because of the need to complete the 
first phase of the analysis in 6 weeks. It also did not assess the 
technology approaches based on the incremental effectiveness provided 
above the baseline technology assets in the geographic areas 
evaluated. As we reported, for a program of this importance and cost, 
the process used to assess and select technology needs to be more 

* In October 2009, we reported that TSA had not yet completed a cost- 
benefit analysis to prioritize and fund its technology investments for 
screening passengers at airport checkpoints.[Footnote 14] One reason 
that TSA had difficulty developing a cost-benefit analysis was that it 
had not yet developed life-cycle cost estimates for its various 
screening technologies. We reported that this information was 
important because it would help decision makers determine, given the 
cost of various technologies, which technology provided the greatest 
mitigation of risk for the resources that were available. We 
recommended that TSA develop a cost-benefit analysis. TSA agreed with 
this recommendation and has completed a life-cycle cost estimate and 
collected information for its checkpoint technologies, but has not yet 
completed a cost-benefit analysis. 

* In June 2009, we reported that DHS's cost analysis of the Advanced 
Spectroscopic Portal (ASP) program did not provide a sound analytical 
basis for DHS's decision to deploy the portals.[Footnote 15] We also 
reported that an updated cost-benefit analysis might show that DNDO's 
plan to replace existing equipment with advanced spectroscopic portals 
was not justified, particularly given the marginal improvement in 
detection of certain nuclear materials required of advanced 
spectroscopic portals and the potential to improve the current- 
generation portal monitors' sensitivity to nuclear materials, most 
likely at a lower cost.[Footnote 16] At that time, DNDO officials 
stated that they planned to update the cost-benefit analysis. After 
spending more than $200 million on the program, in February 2010 DHS 
announced that it was scaling back its plans for development and use 
of the portals technology. 

DHS Has Efforts Under Way to Strengthen Acquisition and Technology 

Since DHS's inception in 2003, we have designated implementing and 
transforming DHS as high risk because DHS had to transform 22 
agencies--several with major management challenges--into one 
department. This high-risk area includes challenges in strengthening 
DHS's management functions, including acquisitions; the impact of 
those challenges on DHS's mission implementation; and challenges in 
integrating management functions within and across the department and 
its components. Failure to effectively address DHS's management and 
mission risks could have serious consequences for U.S. national and 
economic security.[Footnote 17] 

In part because of the problems we have highlighted in DHS's 
acquisition process, implementing and transforming DHS has remained on 
our high-risk list. DHS currently has several plans and efforts 
underway to address the high-risk designation as well as the more 
specific challenges related to acquisition and program implementation 
that we have previously identified. 

In June 2011, DHS reported to us that it is taking steps to strengthen 
its investment and acquisition management processes across the 
department by implementing a decision-making process at critical 
phases throughout the investment life cycle. For example, DHS reported 
that it plans to establish a new model for managing departmentwide 
investments across their life cycles. Under this plan, S&T would be 
involved in each phase of the investment life cycle and participate in 
new councils and boards DHS is planning to create to help ensure that 
test and evaluation methods are appropriately considered as part of 
DHS's overall research and development investment strategies. In 
addition, DHS reported that the new councils and boards it is planning 
to establish to strengthen management of the department's acquisition 
and investment review process would be responsible for, among other 
things, making decisions on research and development initiatives based 
on factors such as viability and affordability and overseeing key 
acquisition decisions for major programs using baseline and actual 
data. According to DHS, S&T will help ensure that new technologies are 
properly scoped, developed, and tested before being implemented. DHS 
also reports that it is working with components to improve the quality 
and accuracy of cost estimates and has increased its staff during 
fiscal year 2011 to develop independent cost estimates, a GAO best 
practice, to ensure the accuracy and credibility of program costs. DHS 
reports that four cost estimates for level 1 programs have been 
validated to date. 

The actions DHS reports taking or has under way to address the 
management of its acquisitions and the development of new technologies 
are positive steps and, if implemented effectively, could help the 
department address many of these challenges. However, showing 
demonstrable progress in implementing these plans is key. In the past, 
DHS has not effectively implemented its acquisition policies, in part 
because it lacked the oversight capacity necessary to manage its 
growing portfolio of major acquisition programs. Since DHS has only 
recently initiated these actions, it is too early to fully assess 
their impact on the challenges that we have identified in our past 
work. Going forward, we believe DHS will need to demonstrate 
measurable, sustainable progress in effectively implementing these 

Chairman McCaul, Ranking Member Keating, and Members of the 
Subcommittee, this concludes my prepared statement. I would be pleased 
to respond to any questions that you or other members of the 
subcommittee may have. 

GAO Contact and Staff Acknowledgments: 

For questions about this statement, please contact David C. Maurer at 
(202) 512-9627 or Contact points for our Offices of 
Congressional Relations and Public Affairs may be found on the last 
page of this statement. Individuals making key contributions to this 
statement include Chris Currie, Assistant Director; Bintou Njie; and 
Michael Kniss. John Hutton; Katherine Trimble; Nate Tranquilli; and 
Richard Hung also made contributions to this statement. Key 
contributors for the previous work that this testimony is based on are 
listed within each individual product. 

[End of section] 

Related GAO Products: 

Aviation Security: TSA Has Enhanced Its Explosives Detection 
Requirements for Checked Baggage, but Additional Screening Actions Are 
Needed. [hyperlink,]. 
(Washington, D.C.: July 11, 2011). 

Homeland Security: Improvements in Managing Research and Development 
Could Help Reduce Inefficiencies and Costs. [hyperlink,]. (Washington D.C.: March. 15, 

Border Security: Preliminary Observations on the Status of Key 
Southwest Border Technology Programs. [hyperlink,]. (Washington D.C.: March 15, 

High-Risk Series: An Update. [hyperlink,]. (Washington D.C.: February 
16, 2011). 

Supply Chain Security: DHS Should Test and Evaluate Container Security 
Technologies Consistent with All Identified Operational Scenarios To 
Ensure the Technologies Will Function as Intended. [hyperlink,]. (Washington D.C.: September 
29, 2010). 

Combating Nuclear Smuggling: Inadequate Communication and Oversight 
Hampered DHS Efforts to Develop an Advanced Radiography System to 
Detect Nuclear Materials. [hyperlink,]. (Washington D.C.: September 
15, 2010). 

Department of Homeland Security: Assessments of Selected Complex 
Acquisitions. [hyperlink,]. 
(Washington, D.C.: June 30, 2010). 

Secure Border Initiative, DHS Needs to Reconsider Its Proposed 
Investment in Key Technology Program. [hyperlink,]. (Washington, D.C.: May 5, 

Secure Border Initiative: DHS Needs to Address Testing and Performance 
Limitations That Place Key Technology Program at Risk. [hyperlink,]. (Washington, D.C.: January 
29, 2010). 

Aviation Security: DHS and TSA Have Researched, Developed, and Begun 
Deploying Passenger Checkpoint Screening Technologies, but Continue to 
Face Challenges. [hyperlink,]. 
(Washington, D.C.: October 7, 2009). 

Combating Nuclear Smuggling: Lessons Learned from DHS Testing of 
Advanced Radiation Detection Portal Monitors. [hyperlink,]. (Washington, D.C.: June 25, 

Combating Nuclear Smuggling: DHS Improved Testing of Advanced 
Radiation Detection Portal Monitors, but Preliminary Results Show 
Limits of the New Technology. [hyperlink,]. (Washington, D.C.: May 21, 

[End of section] 


[1] See the related products list at the end of this statement. 

[2] Department of Homeland Security, Integrated Strategy for High Risk 
Management, Implementation and Transformation, Bi-annual Update to the 
Government Accountability Office, June 2011. 

[3] The mission need statement outlines the specific functional 
capabilities required to accomplish DHS's mission and objectives, 
along with deficiencies and gaps in these capabilities. 

[4] GAO, Department of Homeland Security: Assessments of Selected 
Complex Acquisitions, [hyperlink,] (Washington, D.C.: June 30, 

[5] GAO, Aviation Security: TSA Has Enhanced Its Explosives Detection 
Requirements for Checked Baggage, but Additional Screening Actions Are 
Needed, [hyperlink,] 
(Washington, D.C.: July 11, 2011). An EDS machine uses computed 
tomography technology to automatically measure the physical 
characteristics of objects in baggage. The system automatically 
triggers an alarm when objects that exhibit the physical 
characteristics of explosives are detected. 

[6] GAO, Combating Nuclear Smuggling: Inadequate Communication and 
Oversight Hampered DHS Efforts to Develop an Advanced Radiography 
System to Detect Nuclear Materials, [hyperlink,] (Washington D.C.: Sept. 15, 

[7] GAO, Secure Border Initiative: DHS Needs to Reconsider Its 
Proposed Investment in Key Technology Program, [hyperlink,] (Washington, D.C.: May 5, 
2010) and Secure Border Initiative: DHS Needs to Address Testing and 
Performance Limitations That Place Key Technology Program at Risk, 
[hyperlink,] (Washington, D.C.: 
Jan. 29, 2010). SBInet Block 1 is a surveillance, command, control, 
communications, and intelligence system fielded in parts of Arizona 
that is intended to mitigate or eliminate vulnerabilities along the 
international border between ports of entry. Block 1 is an element of 
DHS's Secure Border Initiative, a comprehensive, multiyear plan to 
secure the borders of the United States and reduce illegal cross 
border activities such as smuggling of economic migrants, illegal 
drugs, and people with terrorist intent. 

[8] GAO, Border Security: Preliminary Observations on the Status of 
Key Southwest Border Technology Programs, [hyperlink,] (Washington D.C.: Mar. 15, 
2011). After an internal assessment initiated in January 2010, the 
Secretary of Homeland Security announced in January 2011 that she had 
directed CBP to end the SBInet program as originally conceived. 
According to DHS, the Secretary's decision was informed by an 
independent analysis of cost-effectiveness, a series of operational 
tests and evaluations, and Border Patrol input. 

[9] GAO, Aviation Security: DHS and TSA Have Researched, Developed, 
and Begun Deploying Passenger Checkpoint Screening Technologies, but 
Continue to Face Challenges, [hyperlink,] (Washington, D.C.: Oct. 7, 

[10] [hyperlink,]. 

[11] GAO, Supply Chain Security: DHS Should Test and Evaluate 
Container Security Technologies Consistent with All Identified 
Operational Scenarios to Ensure the Technologies Will Function as 
Intended, [hyperlink,] 
(Washington D.C.: Sept. 29, 2010). 

[12] [hyperlink,]. 

[13] [hyperlink,]. 

[14] [hyperlink,]. 

[15] GAO, Combating Nuclear Smuggling: Lessons Learned from DHS 
Testing of Advanced Radiation Detection Portal Monitors, [hyperlink,] (Washington, D.C.: June 25, 
2009). The ASP program is an effort by DHS to develop, procure, and 
deploy a successor to existing radiation detection portals. Radiation 
detection portals, also known as radiation portal monitors, are 
designed to detect the emission of radiation from objects that pass by 
them. The current portals are generally deployed at the U.S. land and 
sea borders by DHS's DNDO and operated by DHS's CBP. 

[16] [hyperlink,] 

[17] GAO, High Risk Series: An Update, [hyperlink,] (Washington, D.C.: February 

[End of section] 

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