Department of Homeland Security:

A Strategic Approach Is Needed to Better Ensure the Acquisition Workforce Can Meet Mission Needs

GAO-09-30: Published: Nov 19, 2008. Publicly Released: Nov 19, 2008.

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The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is one of the largest procurement spending agencies in the federal government. In fiscal year 2007, DHS obligated about $12 billion for a wide range of goods and services to meet complex mission needs. Like other federal agencies, DHS has faced challenges in building and sustaining a capable workforce to support its acquisitions. GAO was asked to identify and assess DHS's efforts to build and sustain an effective acquisition workforce and determine the extent to which DHS has planned strategically for the acquisition workforce. To conduct the work, GAO collected and reviewed data and interviewed officials from the Office of the Chief Procurement Officer (CPO), DHS's nine procurement offices, and nine program offices, and reviewed in detail workforce information and data for acquisition support contracts from selected offices.

DHS has undertaken several initiatives, mostly focused on contract specialists, to begin addressing acquisition workforce challenges. Initiatives related to recruiting, hiring, and training have made progress. In January 2008, CPO implemented a contract specialist intern program, and 49 contract specialists were hired through this initiative as of September 2008. In addition, CPO developed DHS-specific training for program managers through a training program begun in spring 2008. However, most initiatives related to defining and identifying the acquisition workforce and assessing workforce needs have not yet produced results and in some cases are progressing more slowly than originally projected. CPO is considering expanding some of its recruiting and hiring initiatives to address identified shortages in acquisition-related positions other than contract specialists, but has not determined how it will implement such an expansion. Moreover, DHS generally lacks documented performance goals and implementation steps--such as actions to be taken, needed resources, and milestones--for its current initiatives. Without developing this foundation, DHS will not be in a position to effectively monitor and evaluate implementation of these initiatives. DHS has not developed a comprehensive strategic acquisition workforce plan to direct its future acquisition workforce efforts and generally lacks several elements key to developing such a plan: a coordinated planning process; a comprehensive acquisition workforce definition; and sufficient data on workforce size and skills, including the use of acquisition support contractors. DHS has not set an overall direction for acquisition workforce planning or fully involved key stakeholders, such as the Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer and component procurement and program offices. However, DHS has recently taken steps that may help to include program office stakeholders in workforce planning. The department's narrow acquisition workforce definition, which includes only a portion of the employees performing acquisition-related functions, further limits the scope of planning. While DHS recognizes the importance of expanding the definition, it has not yet established an interim definition that identifies which positions should be included. DHS also lacks sufficient data to fully assess its acquisition workforce needs, including gaps in the numbers of employees needed or the skills of those employees. Understanding such workforce gaps is key to developing effective strategies to address current and future workforce needs. Further, prior GAO work has found that agencies should develop workforce strategies that include contractors; however, DHS has limited insight into the numbers of contractors supporting its acquisition function or the types of tasks performed. While GAO has previously reported that strategic acquisition workforce planning is not an easy task and can take several years to accomplish, government agencies will not be in a sound position to ensure they have capable acquisition workforces without this planning.

Status Legend:

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  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To improve DHS's ability to effectively manage its current initiatives and plan strategically for its acquisition workforce, the Under Secretary for Management should direct CHCO and CPO to establish a joint process for coordinating future acquisition workforce planning efforts with the components for the purpose of informing departmentwide planning efforts.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DHS concurred with this recommendation, and has established a strategic human capital planning initiative to improve coordination between CPO, the components, CHCO, and other stakeholders to develop DHS's Fiscal Year 2013 Acquisition Workforce Strategic Human Capital Plan. The three stage initiative, which is to be implemented throughout 2012, calls for interviews with component, CHCO, and CPO leadership and working groups with staff from the same entities to gather input for the plan, to be followed by continued communication with stakeholders as the plan is developed, implemented, and evaluated.

    Recommendation: To improve DHS's ability to effectively manage its current initiatives and plan strategically for its acquisition workforce, the Under Secretary for Management should develop a comprehensive implementation plan to execute the existing DHS acquisition workforce initiatives. The implementation plan should include elements such as performance goals, time frames, implementation actions and related milestones, and resource requirements.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DHS concurred with this recommendation and included implementation plans for eight ongoing acquisition workforce initiatives in its Fiscal Year 2012 Acquisition Human Capital Plan. Specifically, these implementation plans include implementation steps, time lines for completion, intended outcomes, and evaluation strategies, and identify officials responsible for implementing the initiative.

    Recommendation: To improve DHS's ability to effectively manage its current initiatives and plan strategically for its acquisition workforce, the Under Secretary for Management should determine whether the department's current initiatives related to recruiting and hiring are appropriate for acquisition-related career fields other than contract specialists and, if so, develop plans to implement the initiatives within the broader acquisition workforce.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DHS concurred with this recommendation and stated that the department planned to expand its Acquisition Professional Career Program (APCP) to include career fields other than contract specialists. In 2009, DHS implemented plans to expand its APCP class to include participants in program management and systems engineering. DHS also hired a recruitment coordinator to assist components with the hiring of acquisition professionals other than contract specialists. DHS has determined that it will not specifically seek approval to expand direct hire authority or reemployed annuitant authority to career fields other than contract specialists, but has instead developed a briefing to educate hiring managers on how to use existing human capital flexibilities to hire acquisition workforce professionals.

    Recommendation: To improve DHS's ability to effectively manage its current initiatives and plan strategically for its acquisition workforce, the Under Secretary for Management should establish an interim working definition of the acquisition workforce that more accurately reflects the employees performing acquisition-related functions to guide current efforts, while continuing to formally add career fields to the definition.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DHS concurred with this recommendation, and stated in its agency comments that the department had developed an interim definition that included contract specialists, program managers, and contracting officer's technical representatives. However, GAO noted that it was necessary to expand this definition further in order to guide acquisition workforce planning efforts. Since that time, DHS stated in its March 2010 Acquisition Human Capital Plan submitted to the Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) the specific career fields that it plans to formally add to the definition. The department has also formally added one additional career field to the definition through the issuance of certification standards in April 2010 and has drafted certification standards for three additional career fields.

    Recommendation: To improve DHS's ability to effectively manage its current initiatives and plan strategically for its acquisition workforce, the Under Secretary for Management should improve the collection and maintenance of data on the acquisition workforce by: (1) assessing what additional data on current acquisition workforce members, such as attrition data, would help inform workforce planning efforts and then developing a strategy to collect that information; (2) expanding the collection of acquisition workforce data from the appropriate component point of contact to include all positions that DHS determines to be acquisition-related; (3) collecting data on the use of acquisition support contractors to inform the strategic acquisition workforce planning process; and (4) conducting an assessment of options for creating systems to maintain comprehensive acquisition workforce data and selecting the appropriate system.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DHS concurred with this recommendation and in May 2011, began using the Federal Acquisition Institute Training Application System Version 2.0 to collect and track data on the department's acquisition workforce. DHS requires that members of the acquisition workforce, including but not limited to personnel in the following acquisition positions: Program Management, Contracting, Contracting Officer Representative, Life Cycle Logistics Management, Cost Estimating, Test and Evaluation, Systems Engineering and Program Financial Management, use the system to create an account and profile, build an individual development plan and track their progress, and develop, submit and track their acquisition certification packages. DHS anticipates that the data from the system will allow it to more accurately forecast annual training requirements, better identify the acquisition workforce, build training and certification metrics, and budget for training and certification required courses. DHS plans to begin collecting data on acquisition support contractors once a proposed change to the Federal Acquisition Regulation related to service contract reporting requirements is finalized.

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