Customs and Border Protection flouts Napolitano’s vision for IT consolidation

Matt York/AP file photo

The agency argues buying its own tool to track aircraft inventory is cheaper than collaborating with the Coast Guard to link portfolios.

Customs and Border Protection plans to purchase an outside computer program to track aircraft inventories, defying Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano’s call for her department’s components to share existing applications.
 
Between CBP and the U.S. Coast Guard, the Homeland Security Department maintains the world’s largest law enforcement aviation fleet. To cut costs, DHS in 2010, drafted a strategy to merge the two agencies’ respective systems for recording plane logistics and maintenance work. While auditing progress on their coordination in maintaining helicopters in May, the department’s inspector general discovered that CBP intends to go it alone with a separate system hosted by NASA or IBM.
 
“This acquisition does not comply with the secretary’s efforts to improve coordination and efficiencies among DHS components and will reduce CBP’s estimated cost savings,” acting IG Charles Edwards wrote in a report released Wednesday.
 
He advised CBP to kill the procurement and to cooperate with the Coast Guard in moving CBP maintenance and logistics data from  its dilapidated system to the service’s running system. CBP’s current tool for documenting operational status, inventory and other maintenance functions is written in archaic computer language. The 1979 system is not user-friendly, which makes the maintenance system itself difficult to maintain, according to the report.
 
CBP disagreed with both of Edwards’ suggestions.
 
The agency contends that combining the two applications would require creating a new joint office, adding more staff and calculating a realistic return on investment -- none of which CBP has time or money to do right now.

CBP’s Office of Air and Marine “simply cannot wait indefinitely on the aviation information systems unification effort when sufficient resources are neither now available nor likely to be available anytime soon for its implementation. OAM must replace the outdated [tracking] system to improve mission efficiency and effectiveness. To do otherwise would be irresponsible," James F. Tomsheck, CBP assistant commissioner of the Office of Internal Affairs, wrote in a June 11 response to a draft report.
 
Retaining CBP’s current system would cost more than $21 million for the next five years, while buying and operating a new one would cost about $7 million, according to agency officials.
 
The IG said CBP’s agenda flies in the face of Napolitano’s vision of simplifying the management of DHS aviation assets.
 
During a March Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on Homeland Security’s fiscal 2013 budget, Napolitano told lawmakers about increased “cross-component collaboration for aviation-related equipment and maintenance by establishing excess equipment sharing, maintenance services and contract teaming agreements, as well as other opportunities for aviation-related efficiencies.”
 
The inspector general criticized CBP for continuing the government’s bureaucratic tradition of operating incompatible computer programs that cannot share information between agencies.
 
“Since 2004, studies and reports conducted by numerous internal and external organizations have pointed specifically to unifying CBP and USCG logistics and information management processes into one system,” Edwards wrote. “CBP has resisted efforts in the past and continues to not take the necessary first step to align similar systems and operations between DHS components.”
 
While CBP collaborates with the Coast Guard on aviation issues and would like to have congruent tools, a merger is not feasible right now, Tomsheck said.
 
“The potential integration of any systems will still require CBP to first establish a project office with USCG and complete other extensive prerequisite steps, none of which can be successfully accomplished in short order,” he wrote. “CBP coordinates extensively with USCG regarding aviation-related issues and firmly supports increased interoperability and efficiencies. However, CBP does not currently have the resources to effectively pursue implementation of the strategy given competing mission priorities and demand.”
 
On Thursday, CBP officials said they have not  yet decided whether to replace their existing logistics tool with the NASA or IBM computer program.
 
In addressing the assertion that the purchase runs afoul of Napolitano’s push to “improve coordination and efficiencies among DHS components,” officials reiterated that their current application is antiquated and inefficient.
 
They added CBP “is coordinating with USCG and other partners” to comprehensively assess alternative commercial and government-owned programs for managing aviation logistics and maintenance.

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