WASHINGTON – A bipartisan group of Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee members Thursday urged the Department of Homeland Security to require explicit requirements and performance standards in all of its major contracts to ensure successful outcomes.

Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Me., Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce, and the District of Columbia Subcommittee Chair Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, and Ranking Member George Voinovich, R-Ohio, responded to a new Government Accountability Office report which they, along with House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., requested, entitled “Better Planning and Assessment Needed to Improve Outcomes for Complex Service Acquisitions.”

“The lesson is simple,” said Lieberman, “know what you want to buy before you buy it and have a plan in place to measure the contractor’s performance. Given the technologically challenging missions that DHS undertakes, this too often has been easier said than done. While DHS has taken some significant steps to strengthen its management of contracts, problems with initiatives such as the SBInet Project 28 or the Automated Commercial Environment show that a ‘Buy now, figure out details later’ approach does not work.”

Collins said: “This GAO report highlights continuing inconsistencies in DHS’s contracting practices concerning the procurement of critical services. The GAO found that half of the DHS contracts audited failed to meet basic acquisition planning and oversight standards, including safeguards like clearly-defined requirements and measurable performance metrics. As a result, these deficient contracts experienced cost overruns and schedule delays. Unless DHS adopts the recommendations of GAO, the Department will continue to waste taxpayer dollars.”

Akaka said: “Unfortunately, this report underscores that DHS needs to do more to manage their contracts better. Inadequate planning and oversight has led to poor outcomes, wasted time, and wasted money. We have seen time and again that agencies, including DHS, do not put enough emphasis on oversight and management of their contracts. We must invest in our acquisition workforce to ensure we have enough people who are properly trained.”

Voinovich said: “This report demonstrates how the nonexistence of well-defined requirements leads to the waste of taxpayer dollars. The SBINet procurement, highlighted in the report, is a great example. Absent well-defined requirements, and a sufficient number of experienced staff, the development of new technology to secure our borders was delayed by eight months, failed to meet DHS’s needs and will not be replicated in future procurements,” Sen. Voinovich said. “In addition, the report underscores the need for DHS to have a Chief Management Officer to ensure major acquisitions are subject to continuous evaluation.”

In its assessment of eight major, complex investments at DHS, GAO found that four of these contracts did not have well-defined requirements, a complete set of measurable performance standards, or both. These contracts experienced cost overruns, schedule delays, or did not otherwise meet performance expectations. In contrast, the other four contracts reviewed had well-defined requirements linked to measurable performance standards. Generally, these contracts delivered results within budget and provided quality service.

Specific findings include:

– GAO reviewed 138 contracts identified by DHS as performance-based contracts and found that only 30% contained the three elements required for such contracts: a performance work statement, measurable performance standards, and a quality assurance plan.

– DHS continues to lack sufficient numbers of contracting and program staff. Only 61% of the minimum required contracting staff, and only 38% of the optimal level of contract specialists were in place as of February 2008.

– Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) did not fully define technical requirements for the Automated Commercial Environment’s trade software modernization program within the original scope of work. Later changes helped drive up costs 40% and led to a 26 month delay in completion.

– CBP awarded the Project 28 (P28) task order for SBInet before operational requirements were finalized and did not establish clear standards for measuring contractor performance. The project experienced an eight month delay and resulted in a product that did not fully meet CBP’s operational needs. In addition, DHS officials have stated that much of the P28 system will be replaced by new equipment and software.

– A TSA contract for maintenance of electronic baggage screening machines, a TSA contract for passenger screening at the San Francisco International Airport, and a Coast Guard contract for support of its Response Boat-Medium program all had well-defined requirements and measurable performance standards. In these cases, the contractors generally met or exceeded expectations.