Homeland Security:

Improvements in Managing Research and Development Could Help Reduce Inefficiencies and Costs

GAO-11-464T: Published: Mar 15, 2011. Publicly Released: Mar 15, 2011.

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This testimony discusses our past work examining the management of research and development (R&D) at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). DHS acquisition programs represent hundreds of billions of dollars in life-cycle 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 technologies used to screen airline passengers and baggage for explosives. Since its creation in 2003, DHS has spent billions of dollars on R&D on technologies and other countermeasures to address various threats and to conduct its missions. Within DHS, the Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) conducts overall R&D efforts to improve homeland security. Among other things, S&T works with DHS components to provide assistance in researching and developing technologies to meet their specific missions, while the components themselves are responsible for developing, testing, and acquiring these technologies. For example, DHS's Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO) is charged with developing, acquiring, and deploying equipment to detect nuclear and radiological materials, supporting the efforts of DHS and other federal agencies. 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. Furthermore, the Coast Guard utilizes a variety of assets such as small boats, ships, helicopters, and other aircraft to perform its missions and regularly develops and procures new assets to replace its aging fleet. In recent years, DHS has experienced challenges in managing its multibillion dollar R&D and acquisition efforts, including instances where technologies were implemented before testing and evaluation was complete. We have also identified problems with its testing and cost-benefit analyses efforts in this area. This testimony is based on reports and testimonies we issued from May 2009 through March 2011, including a report we issued earlier this month regarding opportunities to reduce potential duplication in government programs, save tax dollars, and enhance revenue. This testimony is based on the section from that report related to the management of R&D within DHS. Specifically, this testimony discusses inefficiencies in homeland security R&D and potential for cost savings in this area. This testimony is based on reports and testimonies we issued from May 2009 through March 2011, including a report we issued earlier this month regarding opportunities to reduce potential duplication in government programs, save tax dollars, and enhance revenue. The testimony is based on the section from that report related to the management of R&D within DHS. Specifically, this testimony discusses inefficiencies in homeland security R&D and potential for cost savings in this area.

In March 2011, we reported that in managing its multibillion-dollar research and development efforts, DHS had experienced cost overruns and delays in the procurement and deployment of technologies and systems needed to meet critical homeland security needs. We further reported that DHS could help reduce inefficiencies and costs by completing testing efforts before making acquisition decisions and by including cost-benefit analyses in its research and development efforts. DHS has made acquisition decisions without completing testing efforts to ensure that the systems purchased meet program requirements. Our prior work has shown that failure to resolve problems discovered during testing can sometimes lead to costly redesign and rework at a later date. Addressing such problems during the testing phase before moving to the acquisition phase can help agencies avoid future cost overruns. Specifically: (1) 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. (2) In June 2010, we reported that the Coast Guard placed orders for or received significant numbers of units for three programs--the Maritime Patrol Aircraft, Response Boat-Medium, and Sentinel Class Patrol Boat--prior to completing testing, placing the Coast Guard at risk for needing to make expensive changes to the design of these vessels after production had begun if significant problems were to be identified during future testing. (3) 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. In addition, 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. However, DHS has not consistently included cost-benefit analyses in its testing efforts and acquisition decision making. In 2006, we recommended that DHS's decision to deploy next-generation radiation-detection equipment, or advanced spectroscopic portals, used to detect smuggled nuclear or radiological materials, be based on an analysis of both the benefits and costs--which we later estimated at over $2 billion--and a determination of whether any additional detection capability provided by the portals was worth their additional cost.

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