DHS to hire more procurement officers

Congressional report details contracting management gaps

The lack of overall accountability and control has spawned a sad succession of disastrous acquisitions.'

' Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.)

Henrik G. de Gyor

The Homeland Security Department's procurement operations are understaffed and rife with mismanagement, especially on large contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars, according to a recent congressional report.

And while Congress is pressing for answers, agency officials are moving to solve their problems.

Lawmakers late last month grilled DHS procurement officials about consistently poor contract management over the past three years.

House Government Reform Committee chairman Tom Davis (R-Va.) and ranking member Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) released a report at a hearing detailing contract mismanagement that ranged from awarding too many sole-source contracts to lacking requirements planning; having too few qualified contracting personnel; and constant cost, schedule and performance shortfalls.

'The lack of overall accountability and control has spawned a sad succession of disastrous acquisitions,' Davis said in his opening statement. 'A $104 million [Transportation Security Administration] contract for training airport screeners tumbled out of control, eventually costing more than $700 million. Billion-dollar contracts have yet to deliver basic telecommunications infrastructure to many of our nation's airports. With so much at stake and so little room for error, the size and difficulty of the challenge can be no excuse for a failure to put an effective management structure in place.'

Elaine Duke, DHS chief procurement officer, said many of the sole-source contracts were in response to the hurricanes last year. She also said DHS has added better internal controls that will improve how it manages contracts.

'We awarded 76 percent of our contracts competitively at the onset of hurricane season,' Duke said in response to Davis' questioning. 'We had a dip in our competitive numbers primarily due to the Katrina contracting at FEMA. What we are doing to [counteract] that is putting contingency contracts in place and improving our planning.'

Duke also outlined her top priorities, which include increasing the number of acquisition workers, establishing an acquisition system whereby each requirement has a well-defined mission and a management team, and strengthening contract administration to ensure that products and services meet contract requirements and mission needs.

One of the ways DHS is increasing the number of procurement officers is by asking for more funding.

In fiscal 2007, Duke said, the department requested funding for 2,000 additional contracting officers. And for the 2008 request DHS is working on now, she said, her office is taking a consolidated look across the department of procurement personnel.
The Davis-Waxman report found the contracting shop is understaffed by 42 percent of its authorized contracting officers.

The report also found while DHS' procurement budget has increased by 189 percent since 2003 to $10 billion a year, the number of sole-source contracts has increased by 739 percent to $5.5 billion. The 30-page report looked at 32 DHS contracts worth $34.3 billion since 2003.

Waxman said DHS spending is growing 31 times faster than inflation and 11 times faster than the rest of the federal budget. And for that, he said, DHS has awarded 'boondoggle contracts' that give large sums of money to contractors and leave the country's 'borders unprotected and our ports and airlines vulnerable to attack.'

DHS officials and government auditors generally agreed with the report's findings.

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