Legislation that would codify best practices and key offices for the management and acquisition functions within Department of Homeland Security (DHS) are critical to the long-term success of the department in properly performing its routine administration, officials with oversight responsibility said on Wednesday.

The two bills under consideration by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee “will help DHS solidify the gains made in the discipline, accountability and transparency of the acquisition program management,” John Roth, the inspector general at DHS, told the committee. “These bills codify existing policy and relevant offices, provide the necessary authority for key personnel and mechanisms within the department to effectively manage major acquisition programs, reinforce the importance of key acquisition management practices, such as establishing cost, schedule and capability parameters, and include requirements to better identify and address poorly performing acquisition programs.”

DHS Inspector General John Roth
DHS Inspector General John Roth

Likewise, Michele Mackin, director of Acquisition and Sourcing Management at the Government Accountability Office (GAO), said the legislation “reflects quite a few of our findings and recommendations we’ve made over the years and obviously codifies on what we are on record saying is a very sound best practices acquisition approach.”

Roth, Mackin and her colleague at GAO, Rebecca Gambler, all agreed that DHS is about 60 percent of the way toward implementing the necessary management reforms and best practices needed to provide sound oversight of acquisition programs across the department, improve its financial systems, human capital management and other administrative functions. That’s starting from zero percent when the department was formed 13 years ago, Committee Chairman Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), said.

The bills would essentially codify reforms that have been made. However, there are concerns that without the necessary authorities some or all of these best practices would lapse.

For example, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson in 2014 resurrected the department’s Joint Requirements Council (JRC), which is meant to ensure that the requirements of the DHS operational entities are understood and well defined as acquisition decisions are made. The JRC existed during the Bush administration but then stopped meeting as the department leadership’s attention turned to more high profile matters.

“I worry that the significant reforms if not continuously enforced over time could be undone,” Roth said of the need to pass the bills.

The bills are the DHS Headquarters Reform and Improvement Act of 2016 (H.R. 3572) and the DHS Reform and Accountability Act of 2016. In total, the bills would codify a number of offices and activities, such as giving authority to the Office of Policy to lead and conduct department wide policy and strategic planning, establish the chief procurement officer and that person’s responsibilities, establish the under secretary for management as the department’s chief acquisition officer with the responsibility to approve or cancel major acquisition programs, as well as a number of other administrative and acquisition related directives.

Codifying these best practices, offices and functions will ensure they become “routinized” and provide more clarity, accountability and awareness throughout the department and enhances credibility, Russell Deyo, under secretary for management at DHS, told the committee.

“Codification of these steps will make a huge difference to component compliance and all of our compliance and our ability to make these a standard process,” Deyo said.

The committee must still mark up the legislation.