Customs and Border Protection’s office focused on leveraging the startup community and speeding new capabilities into the field could improve outcomes in some cases by improved partnerships with operators and better link its performance goals to the Innovation Team’s (INVNT) strategic goals, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said in a report last week.

Since its standup in 2018, the INVNT has invested more than $120 million in 73 pilot projects, completing 39 so far through July 22, 19 of which were terminated for various reasons, GAO says in the report, CBP: Innovation Team Has Opportunities to Mature Operations and Improve Performance (GAO-22-105984).

Of the 19 terminated projects, six lacked a transition path or owner within CBP, five suffered from poor technical performance, four were not operationally viable, two had poor company performance and in two more instances the company was acquired, the report says. Of the six lacking a path to being fielded, GAO says this was “due to “the inability to identify a transition partner willing to invest further in the technology. Innovation Team leadership told GAO that this happened because the transition agreements were informal” and “When individuals involved left their organizations, the officials that remained were not willing to deploy the technologies.”

The report doesn’t identify specific pilot projects. GAO says that if the INVNT would “consistently” document agreements with partners that would field the technology, the team could “mitigate the risk of piloting a technology that lacks a transition path or interested owner.”

The INVNT has three strategic goals that it messages internally within CBP, including providing innovative and disruptive capabilities at the speed of need, fully meeting the needs of operators, and “rapidly transitioning capabilities to long-terms owners, such as acquisition programs and operational organizations,” the report says.

In 2022, the team also established three performance goals, including take 15 contract actions, deploy eight new technologies and transition eight new technologies. However, GAO says there are no direct links between the performance and strategic goals.

“For example, it is unclear how the goal for taking a certain number of contract actions relates to putting operators first by providing proven capabilities,” the report says. “As a result, INVNT leadership cannot clearly demonstrate the extent to which it has made progress toward INVNT’s strategic goals.”

The INVNT also lacks performance goals for how quickly it wants to transition capabilities to long-terms owners, GAO says. In late 2021, the team said it had a goal of 18 months to transition capabilities, six months later it said the goals wasn’t always realistic and that the timeframe was not an expected average.

GAO says a review of CBP documents shows that in July, the INVNT’s 39 completed projects took 26 months on average and the 34 projects still ongoing are expected to take three years on average to complete.

The report says that “without a quantitative performance goal for rapidly transitioning capabilities to long-term owners, CBP and INVNT leadership will lack an important tool that could help it identify whether INVNT is achieving its strategic goal.”