DHS acquisition management bills set for House passage

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Two bills scheduled for a vote in the House on Tuesday seek to improve the way Department of Homeland Security officials oversee and document certain acquisition programs.

Similar legislation was introduced in the last session, and watchdogs have long identified a need for overhauling the way the department manages its acquisition programs. The Government Accountability Office in a March 2016 report noted that while DHS management has made some progress, “the department has struggled to effectively manage its major programs, including ensuring that all major acquisitions had approved baselines and that they were affordable.”

And according to DHS Inspector General John Roth, “although its acquisition policy includes best practices, DHS routinely approves moving forward with major acquisition programs without appropriate internal oversight,” Roth wrote in 2016 testimony for Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

The bills are expected to pass under suspension of the rules, an expedited process reserved for generally noncontroversial bills.

Documenting major acquisition programs

New Jersey Democrat Bonnie Watson Coleman’s “DHS Acquisition Documentation Integrity Act of 2017” (H.R. 347) calls for the relevant DHS component head to maintain certain information on its major acquisition programs. The documentation would have to include operational requirements, a complete lifecycle cost estimate, cost-benefit analysis and a schedule. A “major” acquisition program as defined by the bill costs $300 million or more.

The requirements can be waived only under specific circumstances — such as if the program is not yet in full-rate production, or has a reasonable cost estimate already established. And waivers would have to be reported to relevant congressional committees.

Similar legislation to Coleman’s bill passed the House in the previous Congress, and the Congressional Budget Office estimated it would cost less than $500,000 annually.

Documenting border security technology acquisition programs 

Under the other bill, major programs for acquiring border security technology would be required to have an approved budget baseline, and officials would have to document that they are meeting the cost, schedule and performance goals set forth by the baseline.

The Border Security Technology Accountability Act of 2017, or H.R. 505, was introduced by Martha McSally, R-Ariz. The bill also passed the House during the previous Congress. 

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who introduced a companion bill in the Senate, said in a statement at the time, “New technologies such as video and radar surveillance are critical to securing our borders. However, widespread mismanagement and a lack of accountability within our federal bureaucracy has prevented us from using these technologies to stop illegal immigration, put an end to human trafficking and reduce crime in communities in Arizona and across the Southwest.”

The bill also would require the DHS undersecretary for management, in coordination with the commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, to monitor those major acquisition programs to make sure they are on schedule and on budget.

The bill also would require a plan to be submitted to Congress for “testing and evaluating new border security technologies to ensure taxpayer dollars are being used efficiently and effectively,” McCain said.

“This bill is a no-brainer,” McSally said when the bill was introduced. “These important accountability tools should be standard practice across the federal government to ensure taxpayer dollars are used as efficiently as possible.” 

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115th Congress, Bonnie Watson Coleman, border security, Department of Homeland Security (DHS), John McCain, legislation, Martha McSally
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