Homeland Security Department R&D Programs are Scattered and Uncoordinated, Report Says
The Department of Homeland Security doesn’t know how much it spends on R&D, making it difficult for the sprawling agency to oversee and coordinate those efforts, according to the Government Accountability Office. R&D at DHS is “inherently fragmented,” David Maurer, GAO’s director of homeland security and justice, told a House hearing. This is because each of several components of the agency—the Science and Technology Directorate, the Coast Guard, and the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office—are given R&D responsibilities by law. Meanwhile, other DHS components may pursue and conduct their own R&D efforts as long as those activities are coordinated through the S&T office, Maurer said.
The S&T directorate is the largest R&D performer within DHS, with a fiscal year 2014 budget of $813 million. It has been criticized by congressional overseers throughout its 12-year existence for lacking strategic direction and for its poor relations with its DHS technology users, such as the Transportation Security Administration and Customs and Border Protection. The S&T office “has struggled with defining common needs across the department,” Maurer said, and suffers from low employee morale. The directorate ranked 299th place among 300 federal agency subcomponents in the annual Partnership for Public Service’s survey of the best places to work in the federal government, he noted.
“Despite several restructurings and close congressional oversight, the S&T Directorate continues to face difficulties in fulfilling its mission. Problems with priority-setting and strategic planning for the directorate's R&D programs as well as balancing incremental efforts with high risk, high reward research remain a challenge,” said Representative Patrick Meehan (R-PA), who chaired a joint hearing of the House Homeland Security Committee and Science, Space, and Technology Committee on 9 September. Cooperating with other DHS divisions such as the Transportation Security Administration and Customs and Border Protection on the acquisition of technologies also has presented difficulties, he added.
“I am disappointed that the success of the S&T directorate continues to be limited by the lack of an effective strategy and a lack of coordination, resulting in some costly and likely preventable failures,” said Representative Dan Lipinski (D-IL). “This must change.”
Maurer said that S&T has taken some steps to address a 2012 GAO recommendation that the directorate establish time frames and milestones for collecting and evaluating feedback from its DHS customers. Ideally, these steps will better determine the usefulness and impact of its R&D projects and make better-informed decisions regarding future work. DHS is conducting portfolio reviews department-wide aimed at coordinating its R&D programs, he said.
Reginald Brothers, who became undersecretary for science and technology at DHS in April, testified that this year his office will complete a strategic plan that offers a vision for the next five to ten years, and includes concrete performance metrics. Brothers said that the S&T directorate’s R&D portfolio should range from “integrating off-the-shelf technologies to potentially disruptive technologies that, out of necessity, will be high risk.” Acknowledging that some R&D programs will fail, Brothers said his goal was for those to “fail quickly.”
“Transitioning meaningful capabilities to our end users is the measure of success,” Brothers said.
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