Top acquisition officials within some components of the Department of Homeland Security have other roles that compete for their time and attention and haven’t been properly vetted for their oversight roles, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) says in a new report.
The report says that four of five component acquisition executives (CAEs) within the department’s management directorate did not go through the process of being nominated and designated and in the case of the Coast Guard the CAE lacked the suggested acquisition experience.
“Without using the nomination and designation process described in guidance for all CAEs, DHS officials lack a standard way to gain insight into the background of the acting CAEs and whether any gaps in experience need to be mitigated,” GAO says in its report, DHS Has Opportunities to Improve its Component Acquisition Oversight (GAO-21-77). “For example, the CAE for the Coast Guard was nominated and designated, but the CAE did not have the acquisition experience that guidance suggests for the position. In the nomination documentation, the Coast Guard identified this issue and described the experienced staff that will support the nominated CAE.”
Acquisition decision authority within DHS is categorized at three levels depending on the estimated life-cycle costs of a program. Level 1 programs have estimated life-cycle costs of at least $1 billion, Level 2 programs are estimated to cost between $300 million and under $1 billion, and Level 3 programs between $50 million and less than $300 million.
Component CAEs typically oversee Level 3 acquisition programs and in some cases Level 2 programs when authority is so delegated by the DHS Under Secretary for Management, which has oversight of Level 1 and 2 acquisitions.
The report also says that for some of the CAE positions it reviewed the acquisition leads may also have higher priority responsibilities.
“For example, the CAE for the Coast Guard is also the Vice Commandant, a position in which he is second in command of the organization, overseeing senior operational and mission support commanders,” GAO says. “The CAE for the Office of Biometric Identity Management is also the office’s Director, a position that requires him to manage and oversee the full organization, including the direct line management of its acquisition programs.”
GAO says that “not ensuring that the CAE role is the candidate’s primary function—or considering the issue and mitigating it if it is not—is a missed opportunity to solidify the CAE’s focus on acquisition oversight issues.”
GAO’s review also found that in some cases CAEs didn’t complete their support staffing plans as required by DHS policy.