Our Quick Look at Homeland Security Acquisition Programs

We recently released our “quick lookthumbnail_homeland_securityat Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Acquisitions, assessing 22 major programs created to help secure the border, enhance cyber security, improve disaster response, and execute a wide variety of other operations.

The good news? Two of the programs are on track to meet key cost and schedule goals. But where does that leave the other 20? Today’s WatchBlog explores.

DHS Acquisitions

Each year, DHS invests billions of dollars in major acquisition programs—$10.7 billion planned in fiscal year 2014. These major programs include:

  • the Integrated Fixed Towers to help Border Patrol detect and track illegal entries in remote areas;
  • modernizing TECS, the computer system that is the main source of information to determine whether to admit people wanting to enter the country; and
  • the National Cybersecurity Protection System, which is intended to defend federal civilian government’s IT infrastructure from cyber threats.

Listen to our podcast to learn more about the types of programs we reviewed:

Schedule Slips and Cost Growth

Of the 20 programs not on track, 14 have major milestones that have been delayed by 3.5 years, on average. These schedule slips are often the result of challenges in meeting performance requirements and unrealistic plans, among other things.

Border Inspection System

(Adapted from GAO-15-171SP)

Seven of the 14 programs with schedule slips also experienced cost growth, adding up to $9.7 billion. Half of the programs we reviewed face significant funding gaps, and cost growth in 7 programs means less money for others. For example, with that $9.7 billion, the department could have fielded 3 times as many border inspection systems as currently planned. These help identify weapons of mass destruction, contraband, and illegal aliens being smuggled into the country.

Perhaps more troubling is that 6 of the programs we reviewed lacked approved baselines, which establish agreed-upon cost and schedule goals. This prevented us from assessing their performance, obscured accountability, and raised serious questions about the programs’ affordability.

Ultimately, poor acquisition outcomes make it harder for border patrol agents, first responders, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, and other front-line operators to succeed in their efforts to secure the homeland.

Persistent Oversight Issues

In 2012, DHS agreed with our recommendations and took steps to improve oversight and better document major acquisition decisions in a more transparent and consistent manner.

Nevertheless, we have found that oversight issues at DHS persist, mainly due to the department’s fundamental lack of information from several of its agency components, including FEMA and Customs and Border Protection.

To learn more, listen to our podcast on DHS acquisition oversight challenges:


  • Questions on the content of this post? Contact Michele Mackin at mackinm@gao.gov.
  • Comments on GAO’s WatchBlog? Contact blog@gao.gov.
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