The Department of Homeland Security is improving its coordination of research and development (R&D) activities across the department through an integrated process that brings together stakeholders on a project by project basis, although one component, the Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction (CWMD) office, doesn’t participate in the process, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) says in a new report.
The department’s Science and Technology (S&T) Directorate resurrected the Integrated Product Teams (IPTs) in 2015 to coordinate R&D efforts, eliminate duplication and prioritize technology gaps throughout the enterprise. From fiscal years 2010 to 2017, DHS obligated about $1.3 billion annually on R&D, with the S&T branch handling about 80 percent of the total, GAO says.
“Overall, components reported that the IPT process enhanced collaboration and improved visibility into R&D efforts across DHS,” says the report which was issued on March 21. “Officials from all 10 of the DHS components we interviewed reported the IPT process has been helpful in various ways, including identifying capability gaps, prioritizing and closing the gaps, and providing transparency and insight into other components’ R&D efforts.”
The report (GAO-19-210) notes that the CWMD Office, which was interviewed, said they don’t participate in the “S&T-led IPT sessions because they have their own internal process for identifying and prioritizing capability gaps.” The CWMD Office, which was born just over a year ago from the merging of the former Domestic Nuclear Detection Office and the Office of Health Affairs, spent $176 million, or 17 percent of DHS R&D funds, in FY ’17, GAO says.
GAO says that the CWMD Office’s lack of participation in the IPT process creates a risk that that information isn’t shared across department components. The audit agency highlights a 2018 report it issued that DHS chemical defense programs are fragmented and that the CWMD Office “develop a strategy and implementation plan to help DHS integrate and coordinate its chemical defense program and activities,” which include R&D.
The report notes that DHS guidance requires its components to participate in the IPT process. It also says that S&T’s tracking of R&D projects across DHS may “result in information that is not comprehensive.”