More Black Eyes for DHS

March 1, 2010

The Department of Homeland Security is in the news for a range of management problems. Bureaucratic bungling at DHS has been an agency hallmark since its creation in 2003. In 2008, the House Committee on Homeland Security counted $15 billion worth of failed DHS contracts for various projects since its inception.

The DHS inspector general has recently released several reports that point to continued mismanagement.

First, the inspector general found that DHS is failing to consider suspension and debarment procedures for poorly performing contractors. As the report states, failing to do so puts the “government at risk of continuing to conduct business with poorly performing contractors and may result in decreased productivity and increased cost.” In 21 of the 23 cases the inspector general reviewed, DHS didn’t even bother to record why the contract was terminated. 

Second, an independent audit of FEMA’s disaster contract management conducted for the inspector general’s office spends forty pages detailing mismanagement and wasted taxpayer money. Most of the contracts reviewed had one or more of the following problems: 

  • Goods and services purchased were either not needed or significantly underutilized.
  • Funds were expended on questionable acquisitions.
  • Additional advanced planning or establishment of pre-positioned contracts for recurring disaster goods was needed.
  • Acquisition decisions were not adequately documented.
  • Monitoring of contractor performance needs improvement. 

For example, three of the contracts had cost overruns of 1000 percent or more for activities such as housing inspections. Perhaps the most egregious example was the “political” decision to locate a field office in a dilapidated facility in Brentwood, Tennessee following a series of tornados and wind storms. The facility was unnecessarily large and required $600,000 for additional operating, maintenance, and repair expenses. It had dead roaches and insects on the floor, smelled like raw sewage, and one employee had an unexplained face rash for three months after working in the “sick building” (as it came to be called by staff). The audit states that a lease for another full-service facility in the area would have cost half as much. 

Third, another inspector general audit determined that DHS “did not adequately safeguard and control its firearms.” The report found that almost 300 guns were lost between 2006 and 2008. In one example, a firearm left in the bed of an employee’s truck fell off and was subsequently recovered by an individual who resisted arrest and assaulted the arresting officer. Other places where firearms were left include a fast food restaurant parking lot, a bowling alley, and a clothing store. 

Lost equipment at DHS appears to be a widespread problem at DHS. Using information obtained through a FOIA request, the Independence Institute recently found that DHS’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection agencies lost almost 1,000 computers in 2008 alone. The combined value of all lost, stolen, or damaged equipment at the agencies was over $13 million.  


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