Senators promote structural changes to DHS

Thursday - 9/15/2011, 5:55am EDT

WFED's Jason Miller on Federal Drive

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By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
Federal News Radio

Lawmakers want to do some minor house cleaning nearly eight years into the Homeland Security Department's existence.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee is marking up the first ever DHS authorization bill to eliminate and consolidate some DHS offices and improve management functions for everything from acquisition and technology to human resources.

"We're basically going back and looking at how this department has functioned since it began eight years ago," said Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), chairman of the committee. "Some of the office authorized then never really materialized, or we have concluded that they don't do enough that is worth their existence so we've consolidated, terminated, etc. In some cases, we beefed up offices or combined them. We took the assistant secretary for policy and made him an undersecretary because he's playing that kind of role in the department. The main effort here at a time of real fiscal stress is to make sure that Homeland Security is fulfilling its mission but doing it in the most cost effective way possible."

The bill, S. 1546, includes seven sections focused on everything from management and efficiency to structure and organization — as well as specific DHS mission areas such as preparedness, response and recovery.

"DHS is a more effective department than it once was but the department must continue to mature and reach its full potential," said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), ranking member of the committee. "And that is why we brought forth this bill. Most of us agree the status quo needs improvement. If we do nothing we are stuck with the status quo. This first ever reauthorization is a step toward the goal of making the department more effective."

Forming the basis of the bill

Collins said the committee has held more than 70 hearings over the past six years, and many of those helped form the basis of the bill.

The legislation focuses heavily on acquisition, including the creation of an acquisition review board. DHS has already created such a body. DHS undersecretary for management Rafael Borras told Federal News Radio recently the new entity reviews major program's cost, schedule, performance and other key areas to ensure they are on track.

Lawmakers want to codify the concept in law because Collins said DHS needs a process to more accurately forecast programs and better oversight.

"We've found a model for creating a cost analysis division that is modeled on DoD's successful Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation office," Collins said. "We also strengthened DHS's review process to ensure that there is a better definition of requirements up front and to ensure contracts meet mission needs and are within budget, schedule and performance expectations."

The bill also encourages DHS to set up independent verification and validation (IV&V) for major IT acquisitions.

"There are a series of provisions to bring greater discipline to the department's acquisition process which we hope in turn will save billions of dollars that are now lost to waste or actually failure of projects," Lieberman said.

Lieberman, Collins and other members of the committee pointed to agency projects that either failed or didn't live up to expectations such as the Secure Border Initiative Net (SBI-Net) and several financial-management consolidation programs, as evidence of why DHS needs to improve its processes and oversight.

In addition to acquisition changes, the legislation would eliminate five offices, including the Office of Counternarcotics Enforcement, Office of Cargo Security Policy and the Border and Transportation directorate.

But the committee also would create a new office — the Office of International Travel Security and Screening — bringing together U.S. Visit, the visa waiver program and the Screening and Coordination Office.

Lawmakers also would rename the National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD) the Infrastructure Protection and Resilience Directorate.

FPS to charge for services?

Among the other things the legislation would do is let the DHS secretary make the Federal Protective Service a fee-for-service agency, which will allow FPS to collect fees from other agencies for its services. It directs DHS to consolidate at the St. Elizabeth complex by 2018, and it would create a chief management officer at FEMA.

During the markup Wednesday, committee members reviewed 14 of the 68 amendments offered to the bill. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) offered 32 amendments and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) offered 16.

The committee passed eight amendments and agreed to revisit several in the future. The other 54 amendments will be taken up by the committee next week and thereafter.