GAO: DHS S&T Must Improve Information Storage

DHS Homeland Security

The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) is storing its research and development project information in a way that is difficult to identify and track, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released Thursday.

As part of the report, GAO offered four recommendations for DHS to implement, which DHS concurred with and plans to implement.

GAO explained that DHS S&T is “required to coordinate research and development across the department, which helps to prevent duplicative efforts.” Across the entirety of DHS, the agency is responsible for more than $10 billion in R&D funding and seven DHS components have the authority to conduct R&D. Projects under DHS’ domain include cybersecurity, disaster resilience, critical incident response, and border security.

GAO found that R&D project information is stored among “various disparate” sources which make it difficult to identify and track, and suggested that by developing a method to align these various sources, S&T can better compile and analyze its R&D project information.

DHS has attempted to improve coordination among its components by establishing an Integrated Product Team (IPT) process in 2017, GAO said.  The process was intended to serve as an R&D coordination mechanism; however, not all components are participating in the process–namely, one component that is obligated 17 percent of the DHS R&D funds in 2017, roughly $176 million.

“Nonparticipation poses a risk to R&D coordination efforts across DHS, including R&D project information not being shared among components,” the GAO report said. “Furthermore, ensuring that all required components participate in the IPT process would help S&T maintain visibility of R&D projects in order to fulfill its statutory role of coordinating R&D, and mitigate the risk of potential duplication of effort.”

In addition, to establish a method to align disparate information sources, GAO also identified an additional weakness at DHS. “DHS is not well positioned to integrate the results and share lessons learned because limited R&D customer feedback information is collected and analyzed,” the report said. “Of the seven DHS components with R&D budget authority, two reported having formal customer feedback mechanisms. As a result, DHS is unable to more fully understand its customers’ perceptions and experience which would allow DHS to better assess the performance of its R&D efforts.”

The four recommendations GAO offered relate to improving data collection alignment, ensuring that best practices are shared across the agency, and creating a standardized way for customer feedback to be shared.

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