DHS faces steep climb with financial systems modernization

The agency made some awards on a long-delayed financial management modernization effort earlier this month, but years of work awaits the agency on establishing an enterprisewide system.

Officials say it will be years before the Department of Homeland Security finishes modernizing its financial systems, a goal the department has held since its creation.

DHS has made significant progress in maturing the department's IT security and capabilities in terms of the Government Accountability Office's High Risk List, but "our remaining financial management challenges are rooted in our outdated financial systems," said Randolph Alles, the acting undersecretary for management at DHS at a Sept. 30 hearing at the House Homeland Security Committee.

Modernizing financial management systems is probably the biggest remaining challenge with management functions integration, said Chris Currie, director of the Homeland Security and Justice Team at GAO.

"To use a private sector analogy, you can imagine if 22 large corporations had to combine financial systems and processes," he said. "While DHS has made progress, the initial challenge was so great that there is still a long way to go."

This September, the agency made the first awards on a blanket purchase agreement for financial management software, something that's been in the works for at least four years. The agency made awards on a separate contract for integration to support the transition of legacy systems to the planned enterprisewide offering in February of this year.

The Department has already modernized some systems.

Modernizing the U.S. Coast Guard system was the first effort, according to written testimony. The Transportation Security Agency and the Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction were both on that system, but moved off of it in 2021 and 2016, respectively.

The Coast Guard's transition will start next month, and it "should be in full product in the first quarter of FY 2022, after which time its legacy system will begin to sunset," the testimony says.

What's left are some of DHS' most challenging systems, Currie said.

"The remaining financial management outcomes focus on modernizing procurement and asset management systems used by [Federal Emergency Management Agency] and [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement]" Alles said. "And DHS is moving forward with a system that serves those components. We expect to report soon significant progress over the next three to five years."

FEMA's system, for example, is over 25 years old, Currie said. At one point, FEMA was managing over 20 different grant programs with different systems.

DHS is also moving forward with the system at the ICE, according to Alles' written testimony.

The "current notional schedule" is for FEMA, ICE and smaller DHS components that currently are on the ICE system to make phased moves to solutions starting at the end of fiscal year 2024 through the end of fiscal year 2026.

This article first appeared on FCW, a Defense Systems partner site.