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Procurement Problems at DHS

A PROPOSAL FOR a major restructuring of the Department of Homeland Security leaves out some important components, say critics.

Many experts agree that Secretary Michael Chertoff's efforts to create an undersecretary of policy development will help to centralize DHS's mission and integrate spending priorities at the various agencies, but that may not do enough to resolve the procurement, research, and technology problems.

“DHS remains a collection of procurement activities, many with legacy systems and programs that are not under a single review,” says Alan Chvotkin, senior vice president and counsel for the Professional Services Council, whose members are government contractors.

There is no coherent set of policies that would integrate the various procurement systems DHS inherited when it integrated 22 different agencies. In addition, the procurement functions have been “critically short-staffed across the department,” according to Chvotkin.

Another major problem is that the agencies within the department feel the science and technology spending does not necessarily reflect their individual objectives. “I think there's a feeling that they don't have sufficient input and control,” says James Jay Carafano, senior research fellow at The Heritage Foundation and author of DHS 2.0: Rethinking the Department of Homeland Security, which is the report credited with instigating Chertoff’s Second Stage Review.

Carafano also points out that once a technology is developed, there is not a clear transition to take it from development to acquisition. One solution would be for DHS to make the science and technology function primarily an acquisition authority for the department, he says.

These problems are not intractable, however. Although there are clear problems with the acquisition process, Chvotkin points out that the department is still in its infancy. “As the Department settles in…I think some of those longer range plans will come to fruition.”