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Watchdog: Inadequate Staffing Hampers Oversight of DHS Tech Procurement

Watchdog: Inadequate Staffing Hampers Oversight of DHS Tech Procurement

Robert Brodsky | Government Executive Magazine

September 16, 2009

The Homeland Security Department’s ability to fully integrate its new IT procurement practices has been hindered by insufficient staffing in the Office of the Chief Information Officer and fragmented management practices, an agency watchdog testified on Tuesday.

Deputy Inspector General James Taylor told a House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee that DHS has made significant progress in managing and overseeing its annual $6 billion budget for IT systems and infrastructure. But those efforts, he said, frequently have been thwarted by a lack of sound business processes, outdated or stovepiped systems, and an overreliance on contractors for core functions.

“Planning to modernize IT has been unfocused, often with inadequate requirements identification, analysis, and testing to support acquisition and deployment of the systems and other technologies needed to improve operations,” Taylor said.

One of the most significant problems is staffing, he said. In 2004, roughly 75 percent of the positions within Homeland Security’s CIO office were filled. By 2007, that figure had dipped to 64 percent.

The lack of full-time employees has had a tangible effect on IT procurement oversight, Taylor said. In 2007, only 57 percent of the technology budget was evaluated through the department’s IT acquisition review process.

Unable to find and maintain staffing, the CIO’s office turned to the private sector and the number of contractors increased from 121 in 2004 to 550 in 2007, Taylor testified.

“A combination of factors have contributed to the low staffing numbers, including the complex and lengthy hiring process that involves background checks for security clearances,” Taylor said. “Once OCIO positions are filled, employees become ‘burned out’ from working long hours and end up leaving for positions in the private sector.”

But DHS officials said they are beefing up their technology shops. The CIO’s office now has 94 full-time employees — up from 4 in 2004 — and that figure is expected to rise to 122 by the end of fiscal 2009, according to Elaine Duke, DHS deputy undersecretary for management. In fact, Duke said DHS has submitted a plan to increase staffing in the office to 366 full-time employees during the next two years.

Homeland Security also has granted greater authority over component-level IT budgets to new CIO Richard Spires, according to Duke.

Departmentwide, DHS is looking at converting about 200 positions this year from contractors to federal employees and at least 100 more by 2011, she said.


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