DHS maritime research suffers lack of coordination, says GAO


Coordination of maritime research continues to challenge Homeland Security Department components, says the Government Accountability Office, a finding it says is in line with other research finding that DHS has challenges with research and development coordination.

In a Sept. 25 report, the GAO says the three main centers of maritime R&D at DHS--the Borders and Maritime Security Division with the Science and Technology Division, the Coast Guard and the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office--have taken steps to bring customers into the loop of their internal R&D processes, but "work remains to be done at the departmental level."

GAO has long said that DHS could do a better job as a department with R&D and has made recommendations to ensure that efforts aren't fragmented or overlapping. "As of August 2013, DHS has not made a decision about how it specifically plans to address these recommendations," the report says.

As for individual component efforts, GAO asked internal DHS R&D customers, such as Customs and Border Protection, for feedback on a sampling of deliverables, finding mixed results on whether they met needs.

In the case of 20 S&T projects, customers of only seven of those deliverables said the final result met their needs--but hastened to add that even in cases where a deliverable had not been used as intended, "it informed their office's decision making and helped rule out certain technologies as possible." In that regard, the project was successful, they said. Those officials also pointed to budget changes or shifting mission priorities as reasons for why something may not meet a need.

R&D funding at DHS has declined greatly since fiscal 2010, data in the report shows. The three components analyzed in the report had an enacted budget of $990 million for R&D that year, whereas in fiscal 2013, the enacted amount (subject to sequestration) was $768 million.

Congressional appropriations have been critical of DHS R&D efforts, stating in the report accompanying its markup of the fiscal 2012 appropriations bill (H.R. 2017) that "for the billions of dollars spent, the impact of S&T investment and research has not been sufficiently demonstrated." The S&T Directorate, the report said, should "above all, make investment decisions based on clear and sensible priorities." Researchers, however, have said that a too-close emphasis on development at the expense of research may harm innovation.

For more:
- download the report, GAO-13-732 (.pdf)

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