The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), established in 2003 through the consolidation of 22 agencies with disparate missions, has obligated billions of dollars annually to meet its expansive homeland security mission. DHS acquisitions represent hundreds of billions of dollars in lifecycle costs and support a wide range of missions and investments including Coast Guard ships and aircraft, border surveillance and screening equipment, nuclear detection equipment, and systems to track the department's financial and human resources. DHS has not effectively developed, acquired, and provided oversight of its complex investments, such as programs for securing the border and the nation's transportation systems, with many programs experiencing cost overruns and schedule and performance shortfalls.
DHS faces significant challenges in managing its acquisitions, including programs not meeting their cost, schedule, and performance expectations. Strengthening its acquisition management process would help DHS to deliver critical mission capabilities that meet identified needs on time and within budget, including helping to reduce the cost overruns and schedule delays that DHS continues to experience in many of the major acquisition programs GAO has reviewed.
DHS acquisition spending has increased by 66 percent since fiscal year 2004from $8.5 billion in fiscal year 2004 to $14.2 billion in fiscal year 2009and DHS's portfolio of complex acquisitions continues to expand. DHS has made progress in strengthening its acquisition management by, for example, implementing a revised acquisition management directive that includes more detailed guidance for programs to use in informing component and departmental decision making. However, most acquisition programs GAO has reviewed at the department have not met cost, schedule, and performance expectations. In particular, most DHS acquisition programs reported cost growth from initial estimates. Further, most programs GAO reviewed experienced estimated or actual schedule delays in delivery of initial operating capability of an average of 12 months. As GAO reported in June 2010, weaknesses in the department's acquisition management process continue to hinder the department's ability to provide needed capabilities on time and within budget. For example:
 GAO reviewed 15 DHS major acquisition programs for which cost, schedule, and performance data were available.
GAO's work has highlighted the need for the department to improve its acquisition portfolio management and adhere to key acquisition management processes to help improve the department's ability to deliver major acquisition programs to meet critical mission needs on time and within budget. Ensuring that requirements and cost estimates are well defined upfront could help DHS make sure there is a more accurate picture of the total costs and needs for a program. Further, establishing and measuring performance against department-approved baselines and indicators would help ensure that the acquisition program is on track with regard to performance, schedule, and cost. As GAO has recommended, DHS needs to ensure that its investment decisions are transparent and documented; ensure that budget decisions are informed by the results of acquisition investment reviews, including acquisition information and cost estimates; identify and align sufficient management resources, such as acquisition staff, to implement oversight reviews in a timely manner; and review and validate acquisition programs' requirements. These actions, if implemented effectively, should help DHS identify and avoid the cost overruns and schedule delays that DHS acquisition programs have experienced.
DHS is planning to address these challenges by, among other things, establishing an Investment Review Board to oversee activities of the Acquisition Review Board and the status of all acquisition investments; expanding its Acquisition Corps to provide trained procurement and program management professionals to manage DHS's most critical acquisition programs; and developing a tool to track programs' cost, schedule, and performance indicators. However, it is too early to tell what effect these planned changes will have on DHS's acquisition management. In addition, due to previously mentioned concerns about the accuracy of current cost estimates and DHS challenges in measuring against cost, schedule, and performance baselines, GAO is unable to quantify future savings at this time. Success in reducing acquisition cost overruns will depend on DHS's further implementation of key actions GAO has recommended for strengthening the department's acquisition management.
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