Draft bill would force DHS to change acquisition practices

Tuesday - 2/25/2014, 3:42am EST

Listen to Jason Miller's interview on the Federal Drive.

Download mp3

Congressman Jeff Duncan wants to add more discipline and oversight to the Homeland Security Department's acquisition process.

Duncan (R-S.C.), the chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Oversight and Management Efficiency, released a draft bill, called the DHS Acquisition Accountability and Efficiency Act, earlier this month to industry for comments and suggestions.

The bill would require DHS to use a similar model as the one used by the Defense Department by creating an acquisition review board and by requiring quarterly reviews, multi-year acquisition strategies and Congressional notification if the schedule slipped or changed.

A spokesman for Duncan said the congressman wasn't commenting on the discussion draft.

Oversight lacking

During a hearing in September, Duncan said DHS needs to do a better job holding programs and components more accountable.

"As of late 2012, over a third of DHS programs sustained 'high' to 'significant' cost increases, all while DHS chose to move forward with a strategy to buy systems and services that are unaffordable," Duncan said in a statement after the hearing. "This year, Congressional watchdogs found 21 IT programs with cost or schedule problems, poor TSA management of its 'body scanners' and canine teams, mismanagement of a $3 billion effort to improve DHS' radio systems, and failure to convert DHS H-60 helicopters in a coordinated and cost-efficient manner."

At least one industry source wasn't pleased with the discussion draft.

"Many in the contractor community are scratching their heads regarding the draft legislation," said the industry official, who requested anonymity in order to speak more candidly. "DHS has made significant progress in improving acquisition management across the department. Moreover, much of the legislation either duplicates or reorganizes existing management processes that are already in statute. It seems that the bill would further proscribe and reorganize management processes that should be left to the discretion of DHS leadership."

The industry official said another concern about the draft bill is how it would further divide the procurement system by creating another set of processes.

"Frankly, it is time to start to focus on streamlining processes, not creating new, potentially duplicative ones," the official said.

Another industry official said the draft bill isn't too bad.

"But there are risks of becoming so over-focused on process that you lose sight of the mission and outcome imperatives," the official said. "Process does not create excellence."

And Duncan wants to add a lot of process to DHS' acquisition.

First off, the bill would give the undersecretary for management, the chief financial officer and the chief information officer larger roles in their respective areas of expertise.

The undersecretary for management would have the authority to "approve, halt, modify (including the recession of approvals of program milestones) or cancel major acquisition programs."

The undersecretary also would be responsible for "establishing policies for acquisition that implement an approach that takes into account risks of failure to achieve cost, schedule or performance parameters."

Each DHS component would have an acquisition component executive, who would answer to the undersecretary for management.

CPO's role diminished

The most dramatic change in the bill would be to the chief procurement officer's role. That person would focus mainly on policy and strategy and overseeing DHS' relationship with vendors.

The CPO also would oversee the training and certification of acquisition workers.

The day-to-day operations of acquisition oversight and influence would go to a new executive director position created under the undersecretary for management.

The executive director would "monitor the performance of department acquisition programs regularly between formal reviews to identify problems with cost, performance or schedule that components may need to address to prevent cost overruns, performance issues or schedule delays."

The executive director would serve as the coordinator for the acquisition lifecycle review process and advise acquisition decision makers on acquisition laws and policies.

The person also would be responsible for developing strategies and evaluation processes.

Additionally, the law would create an acquisition review board made up of the CFO, CIO, CPO, executive director and led by the undersecretary for management or the DHS deputy secretary.

The review board would meet "every time a major acquisition program needs authorization to proceed from phase to phase through the acquisition life cycle," and to consider when any major acquisition program is off on its cost, schedule or performance metrics. The board also would meet regularly to ensure all acquisition processes proceed quickly in order to support the mission needs.

Workforce pilot under consideration

The board must notify Congress of decisions to move forward with each phase of a major acquisition and provide lawmakers with strategic plans and rationales.