IG: DHS rollout of human resources IT system ‘textbook definition of waste’

 

The Homeland Security Department’s migration to a unified workforce training and performance management system has been dubbed a “textbook definition of waste,” according to its watchdog’s office.

When DHS first inked the software-as-a-service deal with its vendor in 2013, the agency estimated it would save $52 million within five years. In a June 30 review of the program, however, the DHS inspector general found that the $24 million software-as-a-service system doesn’t meet the agency’s operational standards, and has missed the mark on its cost savings goals.

The DHS IG report marks the latest setback for the agency’s human resources information technology systems, which remain on the Government Accountability Office’s High-Risk List.

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“Our auditors found that this acquisition failure literally meets GAO’s textbook definition of ‘waste,'” DHS Inspector General John Roth wrote in a statement alongside its review of the program.

In 2013, DHS entered into a five-year blanket purchase agreement for PALMS with Visionary Integration Professionals, a Reston, Virginia-based technology services vendor.

In 2011, a study ordered by former Chief Human Captial Officer Jeff Neal found that the agency was managing nine learning management systems through four different vendors.

“My concern was that we were spending far too much money buying the same thing multiple times,” Neal said in an interview with Federal News Radio. “Even in the components that were using the same system, they were each running it on their own and spending money on it on their own. And so there was a lot of redundant work being done, a lot of redundant capability, and driving up the cost by running multiple instances of learning management systems.”

While DHS declared PALMS operational in January 2015, the system still does not meet the requirements of the Coast Guard, the Transportation Security Administration, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

As of October 2016, the agency has spent more than $5.7 million on unused or partially used PALMS subscriptions, and $11 million to extend contracts for some of the systems it was looking to shutter.

Neal, who left DHS in 2011 and is now senior vice president of ICF, originally envisioned that DHS would move to two learning management systems, because there were already “two large, viable commercial products in use,” handling workforce functions like course registration, distance learning and competency management for a majority of the agency. In the end, however, DHS decided to move the whole agency to PALMS.

“By not moving most of the department to a different system, we would be able to minimize the risk of implementation failures,” Neal said. “Sometimes the problems you see in system deployment are that people are just wedded to the way they do business, and they don’t want to change.”

Taking the next steps toward improving HR IT systems will likely be a priority for the agency’s next chief information officer. Richard Staropoli, the agency’s last CIO, stepped down from his post suddenly Aug. 3 after serving less than three months on the job.

Improving PALMS, Neal said, should be a mutual concern for the CHCO and CIO. As CHCO, Neal worked closely with former CIO Richard Spires to review learning management systems, and had his HR IT staff report to the CIO’s office.

“Richard [Spires] and I decided that the best way to do it would be to have those people sit in the CHCO’s office, but be attached to the CIO. That way, we were showing very clearly to both offices that we expected these people to work together. We were the requirers in the CHCO’s office; the CIO’s organization were the deliverers of technology,” Neal said.