A bill by Republican Rep. Jeff Duncan that would impose tighter controls on how the Homeland Security Department buys equipment won approval from a House subcommittee Wednesday.
Duncan’s bill, supported by Democratic subcommittee members, appears on a fast track in a Congress where few ideas produce bipartisan votes.
Government auditors have labeled Homeland Security’s acquisition programs as “high-risk” and susceptible to waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement. The agency, created after the 2001 terrorist attacks, handles border surveillance, security at airports and seaports and other major responsibilities.
The DHS Acquisition Accountability and Efficiency Act would give the agency’s undersecretary for management the power to approve, stop, change or cancel any major acquisition program, and to review how such purchasing decisions are made. DHS officials also would have to get a better handle on cost overruns and schedule slips.
The proposal was approved unanimously by the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Oversight and Management Efficiency, chaired by Duncan.
“In contrast to some concerns that this bill simply creates more processes for DHS, I believe that the opposite is true,” said Duncan, R-Laurens. “This bill requires DHS to streamline its acquisition process and hold its programs accountable.”
DHS has 135 major ongoing acquisition programs, according to Rep. Ron Barber, D-Ariz. Three-quarters of those programs cost more than $300 each over several years. The agency is the third-largest in government, with an annual budget of almost $60 billion.
Barber and Duncan worked together on the bill.
“I have seen taxpayer dollars wasted on projects that over-promised and under-delivered, where the absence of these requirements has led to inefficient spending of taxpayer dollars and ineffective programs,” Barber said.
One prominent example was the failed SBInet, a virtual fence along the Southern border that cost $1 billion but was eventually canceled.
Duncan said he expects the bill to be debated by the full committee next month and move to a floor vote without controversy.
DHS Secretary JehCQ Johnson told Congress earlier this month that he was doing a “top-to-bottom” review of the agency’s acquisition process.
“Part of this will include the thoughtful but necessary consolidation of functions to provide the department with the proper oversight, management and responsibilities to carry out this task,” Johnson said.