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Friday, March 5th, 2021

GAO recommends closer relationship between DHS, Congress to improve spending oversight

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The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) made a three-point recommendation regarding the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) this week, after finding that their current budget reporting fails to account for how much it actually spends on its acquisitions.

The issue is that DHS currently reports its budget by aggregating operations and support costs by mission, rather than by individual acquisition program. This gives them flexibility to pursue what operations they desire, but given that there can be plenty of costs incurred after an asset is deployed, GAO found that it might not be the most accurate for providing information to Congress.

“This disparity is due in part to the manner in which the department reports budget information,” GAO said of its assessment. “However, these limitations are not insurmountable. Standards for internal controls state that managers should communicate quality information, in this case, full program costs. Providing additional data on O&S costs in budget reports would preserve DHS’s flexibility in its use of funds while providing Congress a better understanding of the budgetary and programmatic effect of its funding decisions.”

GAO, therefore, made three recommendations. For starters, they called for the Secretary of Homeland Security to work with Congress to add information to its annual congressional budget justification showing O&S funding requests for major acquisition programs within its current activity accounts. They also asked that O&S data be included in monthly execution reports at a major acquisition program level for current program and project activity accounts. Further, they recommended the DHS CFO include O&S funding at that level in its Future Years Homeland Security Program report for all components.

In this way, they believe that budget requests from DHS will better reflect estimated costs and enhance visibility for congressional oversight. In making their decision, they reviewed a sample of 11 major acquisition programs and interviewed DHS officials.