DHS R&DR&D at DHS is “inherently fragmented”: GAO

Published 16 September 2014

The GAO says that DHS does not know how much it spends on R&D, making it difficult for the sprawling agency to oversee and coordinate those efforts. David Maurer, GAO’s director of Homeland Security and Justice, told a House hearing that R&D at DHS is “inherently fragmented.” The reason is that 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. At the same time, other DHS components conduct their own R&D efforts as long as those activities are coordinated through the S&T office, Maurer said.

In September 2012, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) did not know the total amount its different components had invested in research and development (R&D) and did not have policies and guidance for defining R&D and overseeing R&D resources across the department. According to DHS, the department’s Science and Technology Directorate (S&T), Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO), and Coast Guard were the only components that conducted R&D, and GAO found that these were the only components that reported budget authority, obligations, or outlays for R&D activities to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

GAO, however, identified an additional $255 million in R&D obligations made by other DHS components. GAO says that at the time of GAO’s review, DHS did not have a department-wide policy defining R&D or guidance directing components how to report all R&D activities. GAO recommended that DHS develop policies and guidance to assist components in better understanding how to report R&D activities and better position DHS to determine R&D investments. DHS concurred with the recommendation and, as of September 2014, had updated its guidance to include a definition of R&D — but efforts to develop a process for coordinating R&D with other offices remain ongoing and have not yet been completed.

GAO says it will continue to monitor DHS’s efforts to develop its approach for overseeing R&D at the department.

GAO also reported in September 2012 that S&T had taken some steps to coordinate R&D efforts across DHS, but the department’s R&D efforts were fragmented and overlapping, a fact that increased the risk of unnecessary duplication. GAO recommended that DHS develop a policy defining roles and responsibilities for coordinating R&D and establish a mechanism to track all R&D projects to help DHS correct existing fragmentation and overlap and reduce the risk of unnecessary duplication. DHS concurred with the recommendation. GAO says that as of September 2014, S&T has not fully implemented new policy guidance but, according to S&T, is conducting portfolio reviews across the department, as directed by the fiscal year 2013 appropriations act, aimed at coordinating R&D activities.

GAO will continue to monitor DHS’s efforts to develop a policy to better coordinate and track R&D activities at the department.

In September 2013, GAO reported that DHS border and maritime R&D components reported producing 97 R&D deliverables from fiscal years 2010 through 2012 at an estimated cost of $177 million. GAO found that the type of border and maritime R&D deliverables produced by S&T, the Coast Guard, and DNDO varied, and R&D customers GAO met with had mixed views on the impact of the deliverables. These deliverables included knowledge products and reports, technology prototypes, and software. For example, S&T developed prototype radar and video systems for use by Border Patrol. GAO reported, however, that S&T had not established time frames and milestones for collecting and evaluating feedback on the extent to which deliverables met customers’ needs. GAO recommended that S&T establish time frames and milestones for collecting and evaluating such feedback from its customers to better determine the usefulness and impact of its R&D projects and make better-informed decisions regarding future work. As of September 2014, DHS had taken steps to address this recommendation, including making plans to gather customer feedback on a more consistent basis. GAO says it will continue to monitor DHS’s efforts in this area.

Why GAO did this study
GAO notes that conducting R&D on technologies for detecting, preventing, and mitigating terrorist threats is vital to enhancing the security of the nation. Since its creation, DHS has spent billions of dollars researching and developing technologies used to support its missions. Within DHS, S&T conducts and is responsible for coordinating R&D across the department. Other components also conduct R&D to support their respective missions.

The GAO report discusses (1) how much DHS invests in R&D and the extent to which DHS has policies and guidance for defining and overseeing its R&D efforts across the department; (2) the extent to which R&D is coordinated across DHS; and (3) the results of DHS border and maritime security R&D efforts and the extent to which DHS has obtained and evaluated feedback on these efforts.

What GAO recommends
In its prior reports, GAO recommended, among other things, that DHS develop policies and guidance for defining, overseeing, coordinating, and tracking R&D activities across the department, and that S&T establish time frames and milestones for collecting and evaluating feedback from its customers. DHS concurred with GAO’s recommendations and has actions underway to address them.

— Read more in Department of Homeland Security: Actions Needed to Strengthen Management of Research and Development (GAO, 9 September 2014); and Joint Subcommittee Hearing: Strategy and Mission of the DHS Science and Technology Directorate, Senate Committee on Homeland Security, 9 September 2014