The Department of Homeland Security has no idea how much money it spends researching and developing the equipment it needs to protect the United States from terrorism. And that results in millions of dollars of wasted investment on redundant or unnecessary projects.
Worse, the department’s inability to track and audit its own tech spending is indicative of a deeper problem. Homeland Security is broken. And that could leave America open to attack.
“DHS does not know its total investment in R&D,” a Sept. 9 Government Accountability Office warned.
Congress gives DHS around $60 billion every year. A few squandered millions might not seem like that big of a deal, especially considering the tens of billions of dollars the Pentagon wastes on a routine basis.
But Homeland Security’s R&D auditing failure is a microcosm. Poor communication, complicated oversight and wasteful spending are problems at every level of the department.
Pres. George W. Bush formed DHS in 2002 by merging 22 disparate agencies, including the Transportation Security Agency, the Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection. Today the department is too big and nobody really knows who’s in charge.
That can be demoralizing. And as a consequence, Homeland Security can’t keep good employees. Senior leaders and low-level grunts alike flee the department in droves every year. DHS’ turnover rate is the highest in the U.S. government. Its employee satisfaction rating is the lowest.
Customs and Border Protection, for example, has burned through six commissioners in the last six years. Other DHS leadership positions have seen similar rates of change.
“You cannot sustain a high level of security operations when you have that kind of turnover,’’ Kenneth Kasprisin, former acting head of the TSA, told The Washington Post.
According to Kasprisin, DHS’ work environment is toxic. One of the reasons for the awful environment is Congress. More than 90 committees and subcommittees—and an extra 30 congressional task forces and commissions—oversee DHS. The department answers to too many people. It doesn’t know who to listen to.
Waste is another huge problem. DHS planned to build a new headquarters in southeast Washington, D.C.—a decade ago. Construction should have ended by now. But officials are saying the building won’t be ready until 2026.
The new HQ’s cost has swelled from $3 billion to $4.5 billion. That number will likely go up before the project’s scheduled completion 12 years from now.
In 2008, The Washington Post reported that DHS had blown $15 billion on failed contracts during its meager five years in existence. Six years later, nothing has changed. This recent report—really, a script for GAO investigator Dave Maurer’s Sept. 9 testimony to Congress—proves that.
Maurer’s testimony took place before the Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Security Technologies Subcommittee of the House of Representatives’ Homeland Security Committee and the Research and Technology Subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.
They are just two of the many legislative committees that oversee DHS.
Maurer’s statement details all the problems the GAO uncovered while investigating Homeland Security’s research and development expenditures. No one at DHS is sure how much money the agency spent on R&D, who to ask for budget approval or if anyone is doing the same research. DHS employees can’t even agree on a definition of research and development.
You read that right—the Department of Homeland Security can’t even say for sure what research and development even means.
In one case, the GAO found five different projects in five different offices all trying to develop a way to detect a specific chemical. The groups weren’t talking to each other. They weren’t sharing resources or information. Four of the projects were redundant. And that’s just one example.
What does the taxpayer get in exchange for DHS’ $60-billion annual budget? Failed contracts, redundant research, miserable employees and bureaucratic confusion—all in an agency that’s supposed to help keep America safe.