Budget pressures lead to missed contracting deadlines for CBP

Monday - 9/24/2012, 5:27pm EDT

Customs and Border Protection has decided to miss some of its contracting deadlines, in an attempt to deal with budget pressure affecting the Homeland Security Department's acquisition workforce, said Mark Borkowski, assistant commissioner for technology innovation and acquisition.

CBP is struggling to increase the number of acquisition employees on its payroll, Borkowski said.

"We've elected to take the risk on the schedules side and allow the schedule to slip, rather than try to protect the schedule and take the chance that what we design will not be well-thought-out and will have high-risk problems down the stream," Borkowski said. "We've decided to let schedules slip while we accommodate the shortages in quantity and sometimes the skillsets of the personnel."

Borkowski said CBP has allowed some schedules to slip by more than one year, as is the case with the agency's Integrated Fixed Towers program to replace the troubled Secure Border Initiative-Net project.

In an earlier job with the Defense Department, Borkowski said he became accustomed to staffing even the smallest defense acquisition programs with at least 50 people.

"I don't know that we need 50 people on all of our program offices," he said. "But I will tell you compared to standards, [CBP is] well below those numbers. So our folks are fairly stressed. We put tremendous demands on them, particularly when we're trying to buy a lot of things all at the same time."

Shrinking budgets plague all of DHS

The same kind of budget pressure is also affecting other parts of DHS, said Nick Nayak, the department's chief procurement officer. His team created a staffing model to gauge how many contracting officers Homeland Security needs.

"Contracting being one sliver of the acquisition workforce … the model shows us that — very clearly shows us — that we do need more resources to get done what we're doing," Nayak testified Friday in a House hearing by the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations, and Management.

Nayak said he hopes DHS will one day have the fiscal resources to increase the size of its acquisition workforce.

But that's unlikely to happen in the near future. Budget realities are forcing agencies to make decisions, in many cases, without a clear understanding of how much money their future budgets will provide. Congress has not passed any permanent appropriations bills for FY 2013, instead opting for a six-month continuing resolution. Meanwhile, agencies must prepare for automatic spending cuts under sequestration. And they must also find ways to cut 5 percent from their 2014 budgets.

The uncertainty makes planning ahead difficult for agencies such as CBP.

"What that requires us to do …" Borkowski said, "is to go back and review those programs against their new likelihood of resources to see if they require to see if they require any kind of adjustments — to see if the fundamental assumptions on which we decided to pursue those programs have changed. We're in the process of doing that for some of our major programs. "

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