WASHINGTON –Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Me., Wednesday raised questions about the Department of Homeland Security’s overreliance on the use of contractors to support inherently governmental work.

A new report by the Government Accountability Office – requested by the Committee and released at a hearing on the subject – examined documents for 117 contracts and examined nine contracts in detail. GAO found that DHS has not revisited its original justification for relying on contractors – the need to stand up the Department quickly – and has not conducted a comprehensive assessment of the appropriate mix of federal employees and contractors. GAO also found that a majority of the contract officials and program managers interviewed were unaware that federal procurement policy requires heightened oversight when contractors perform professional and managerial services. Furthermore, none of the oversight plans reviewed by GAO contained specific measures for assessing contractor performance.

The report found, for example:

The Coast Guard hired a contractor to help manage its competitive sourcing program which means that it hired a contractor to help determine whether existing DHS jobs should be contracted out.

One $42.4 million contract to support DHS’s Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection Directorate was so broad that it covered 58 different and distinct tasks, ranging from acquisition support, intelligence analysis, budget formulation, and information
technology planning. There was only one DHS employee assigned to help the contracting officer provide technical oversight of this enormous job.

The contractor supporting TSA’s employee relations office provided advice to TSA managers on dealing with personnel issues, including what disciplinary actions to take – the very same function that TSA employees were already being paid to perform
themselves in that very office.

“The overuse of contractors raises the risk that DHS is not creating the institutional knowledge needed to be able to judge whether contractors are performing as they should, meaning the agency may pay too much for services, or may not receive the best possible services for its money,” Lieberman said. “There is also the risk that DHS will lose control over its own decision making. And the Department may become so dependent on contractors that it simply has no in-house ability to evaluate the solutions its contractors propose or to develop options on its own accord.”

“The GAO report we receive today delivers a troubling judgment, especially when so much of DHS service contracting comes very close to the performance of “inherently government functions,” said Senator Collins. “To address reports of contracting failures like those identified in this and other GAO reports, Senator Lieberman and I introduced S. 680, the Accountability in Government Contracting Act of 2007. That bill, which was reported unanimously by the Committee, would reform contracting practices; strengthen the procurement workforce; introduce new safeguards against waste, fraud, and abuse; and provide increased oversight and transparency in the federal government’s dealings with contractors. Also important, the bill would also limit the duration of non-competitive contracts – – a problem identified by GAO in this report, as many DHS service contracts were extended well beyond the original period of need.“

Witnesses at Wednesday’s hearing – entitled “Is DHS Too Dependent on Contractors to do the Government’s Work” – were John Hutton, Director of Acquisition and Sourcing Management at the Government Accountability Office; Elaine C. Duke, Chief Procurement Officer at the Department of Homeland Security; and Steven L. Schooner, Co-Director, Government Procurement Law Program at George Washington University.

The hearing was the third contracting hearing the Committee has held this year. In August, the Committee passed unanimously, S. 680, the “Accountability in Government Contracting Act of 2007.”

The GAO Report can be found here