Department of Homeland Security:

Opportunities Exist to Better Evaluate and Coordinate Border and Maritime Research and Development

GAO-13-732: Published: Sep 25, 2013. Publicly Released: Sep 25, 2013.

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What GAO Found

Between fiscal years 2010 and 2012, the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) border and maritime research and development (R&D) components reported producing 97 R&D deliverables at an estimated cost of $177 million. The type of border and maritime R&D deliverables produced by DHS's Science and Technology (S&T) Directorate, the Coast Guard, and the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO) varied, and R&D customers we met with reported mixed views on the impact of the R&D deliverables they received. These deliverables were wide-ranging in their cost and scale, and included knowledge products and reports, technology prototypes, and software (as shown in the figure below). The Coast Guard and DNDO reported having processes in place to collect and evaluate feedback from its customers regarding the results of R&D deliverables. However, S&T has not established timeframes and milestones for collecting and evaluating feedback from its customers on the extent to which the deliverables it provides to DHS components--such as US Customs and Border Protection (CBP)--are meeting its customer's needs. Doing so could help S&T better determine the usefulness and impact of its R&D projects and deliverables and make better-informed decisions regarding future work

DHS has taken actions and is working to develop departmental policies to better define and coordinate R&D, but additional actions could strengthen internal and external coordination of border and maritime R&D. S&T's Borders and Maritime Security Division, the Coast Guard, and DNDO reported taking a range of actions to coordinate with their internal DHS customers to ensure, among other things, that R&D is addressing high priority needs. However, work remains to be done at the agency level to ensure border and maritime R&D efforts are mutually reinforcing and are being directed towards the highest priority needs. For example, officials from university centers of excellence reported difficulties in determining DHS headquarters contacts, and officials from the primary land-border security R&D center reported delayed and cancelled projects due to the inability to obtain data. DHS could help ensure that the approximately $3 million to $4 million a year dedicated to the university Centers of Excellence is used more effectively by more carefully considering potential challenges with regard to data needs, access issues and data limitations before approving projects.

Why GAO Did This Study

Conducting border and maritime R&D to develop technologies for detecting, preventing, and mitigating terrorist threats is vital to enhancing the security of the nation. S&T, the Coast Guard, and DNDO conduct these R&D activities and S&T has responsibility for coordinating and integrating R&D activities across DHS. The Centers of Excellence are a network of university R&D centers that provide DHS with tools, expertise, and access to research facilities and laboratories, among other things. GAO was asked to review DHS's border and maritime R&D efforts.

This report addresses (1) the results of DHS border and maritime security R&D efforts and the extent to which DHS has obtained and evaluated feedback on these efforts, and (2) the extent that DHS coordinates its border and maritime R&D efforts internally and externally with other federal agencies and the private sector. GAO reviewed completed and ongoing R&D project information and documentation from fiscal years 2010 through 2013 and interviewed DHS component officials, among other actions.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that DHS S&T establish timeframes and milestones for collecting and evaluating feedback from its customers to determine the usefulness and impact of its R&D efforts, and ensure that potential challenges with regard to data reliability, accessibility, and availability are reviewed and understood before approving Centers of Excellence R&D projects. DHS concurred with GAO's recommendations.

For more information, contact David Maurer at (202) 512-9627 or maurerd@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: DHS Science and Technology (S&T) Directorate has taken some steps to establish timeframes and milestones for collecting and evaluating feedback from its customers to determine the usefulness and impact of its R&D projects and deliverables; such as developing research and development (R&D) Strategic Plans to communicate priorities and direction between DHS S&T and its customers (respective components). However, as of July 2014 S&T is still in the process of directing all S&T Project Managers to modify their existing project plans and as they develop new project plans, to include milestones to capture formalized feedback from their customers, in accordance with their Project Management Guide. Further, S&T plans to validate that Project Managers are receiving and appropriately reacting to customer feedback during Tech Reviews which is expected to occur in April 2015. Once complete, these actions should address the intent of our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that DHS effectively manages and coordinates its border and maritime R&D efforts, the Secretary of Homeland Security should instruct the Under Secretary for Science and Technology to establish timeframes and milestones for collecting and evaluating feedback from its customers to determine the usefulness and impact of its R&D projects and deliverables, and use it to make better-informed decisions regarding future work.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: DHS S&T's Office of University Programs (OUP) has taken steps to ensure that design limitations with regard to data reliability, accessibility, and availability are addressed prior to embarking on an R&D project. For example, OUP and the National Center for Border Security and Immigration (BORDERS), a DHS S&T Center of Excellence (COE), co-hosted a workshop to identify common problems the COEs have in accessing data from DHS, understand DHS constraints in sharing data, and develop best practices for requesting and sharing data between the COEs and DHS. Further, UOP plans to amend its cooperative agreement. However, according to OUP officials in September 2014, the cooperative agreement containing the new language, is not yet changed at this time, but revisions are planned for the next scheduled update. Once complete, these actions should address the intent of our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that DHS effectively manages and coordinates its border and maritime R&D efforts, the Secretary of Homeland Security should instruct the Under Secretary for Science and Technology to ensure that design limitations with regard to data reliability, accessibility, and availability are reviewed and understood before approving Center of Excellence R&D projects.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

 

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