GAO makes recommendations based on failed radiation portal monitor

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security should make lessons learned reviews an institutional requirement to increase success probability for future acquisition programs, according to a recent U.S. Government Accountability Office report.

The GAO conducted a lessons learned review on a program by the DHS to develop an advanced spectroscopic portal monitor, a next-generation radiation portal monitor that would be used to screen trucks and cargo containers. The DHS's Domestic Nuclear Detection Office develops and deploys equipment meant to help federal agencies intercept radiological or nuclear materials that could be used for a crude nuclear bomb or a radiological dispersive device.

The project for the new ASPs, which was meant to replace currently deployed radiation detectors, was scrapped when the device did not pass field validation tests in 2009 and 2010. In tests, the ASPs triggered false alarms from naturally occurring radioactive material in granite and kitty litter. The DHS officially cancelled the program in October 2011.

Because preventing terrorists from smuggling radiological or nuclear material into the U.S. is a national priority, the GAO was asked to conduct a review on the ASP project to find out more about its cancellation.

The GAO review found analytical weaknesses related to the testing and program cancellation, including inconsistencies in the analysis of the DNDO related to settings used for the ASP test. The DHS does not currently have processes in place to make sure that lessons learned reviews are conducted or disseminated following the cancellation of a program.

The GAO said that lessons learned reviews can help identify reasons why certain programs were cancelled. While the DHS did end up directing the DNDO to conduct a lessons learned review, the DHS has no process in place for disseminating such reports.

"DHS should require lessons learned reviews and develop processes to ensure such reviews are done in a timely manner and the results disseminated throughout the department," the GAO said. "DHS agreed with all of GAO's recommendations and has planned and taken some actions to address them."