How Homeland Security Wasted Millions on Software That Doesn’t Work

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Jul 10 2017

It seemed like a good idea at the time for maximizing government efficiency within the sprawling Department of Homeland Security: Purchasing a sophisticated computer software package designed to deliver, track and administer employee training and performance.

Since 2013, the DHS’s Human Capital Office has spent nearly $25 million on a “Performance and Learning Management System” (known as PALMS) through a contract with a company called Visionary Integration Professionals. The contract held out the promise of savings of more than $52 million over five years.

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But a combination of delays, snafus and inadequate oversight have led to substantial delays in implementation. And according to a new report by DHS Inspector General John Roth, PALMS still “does not address the Department’s critical needs for an integrated, department-wide learning and performance management system.”

As of last October, in the waning days of the Obama administration, PALMS has not met DHS operational requirements for effective administration of employee learning and performance management activities. Yet DHS officials inexplicably had accepted PLAMS as “operational” in January 2015 “without verifying that it worked as it was supposed to,” according to the report.

The contract was the outgrowth of a security efficiency review in 2011 that found that four different vendors were operating nine separate systems for training and management. DHS is the third largest federal department – behind only the Defense Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs -- and employs more than 240,000 people.

Beyond the $24.2 million in expenditures on the overall contract, DHS spent more than $5.7 million for unused and partially-used subscriptions to the software, $11 million to extend contracts of existing learning management systems and $813,000 for unexpected, increased program management costs.

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After a system-wide testing phase in December 2014, seven different divisions of DHS -- including the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Transportation Security Administration, the U.S. Secret Service, the Coast Guard and the Federal Emergency Management Agency -- all expressed concern about PALMS’ unmet requirements.

“This occurred because the PALMS program office did not effectively implement its acquisition methodology and did not monitor contractor performance,” according to the inspector general’s report. The Government Accountability Office also reported in February 2016 that DHS experienced “programmatic and technical challenges” that led to multiple-years delays in the schedule for completion.

In his scathing assessment of the program, Roth noted that DHS did such a poor job of monitoring the contractor’s implementation of the software program that the failure “literally meets” the GAO’s definition of “waste.”