While the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has fully planned for its pivot from waterfall to Agile development, about one-third (34 percent) of its planned Agile activities have been deferred to a later start date, according to a June 1 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report.

According to the report, the leading practices for change management when switching to Agile recommend that an agency plan for, implement, and measure the impact of the transition. While DHS committed to its Agile transition in 2016 and fully developed its plans for the switch, the department’s ability to implement and measure impact has been met with challenges.

“DHS has not fully implemented these plans and has experienced challenges in measuring progress against its intended goals,” the report states. “In addition, many of the plans are part of a larger effort to improve overall IT acquisitions rather than specific to a transition to Agile development, an approach that may delay DHS’s execution of these plans.”

For example, GAO suggested that the DHS workplace culture has not fully embraced the Agile approach to software development, partially because there was a lack of senior stakeholder training and established incentives to make the switch.

To address these challenges and work toward completing implementation and measurement, GAO made 10 recommendations to the agency, including:

  • The DHS CIO should define a process and set of controls to ensure Agile projects are reporting required performance metrics;
  • The CIO and the chief procurement officer, with help from the Homeland Security Acquisition Institute, should establish Agile training requirements for senior stakeholders;
  • The Chief Human Capital Officer and the CIO should consider modifying employee recognition and performance management to incentivize Agile projects;
  • The CIO should track and monitor the pact of Agile team development; and
  • The CIO should set expectations for automated testing and code quality, and track and monitor against those expectations.

In a May 11 letter from Jim Crumpacker, director of the Departmental GAO-Office of the Inspector General Liaison Office within DHS, to Carol Harris, director of GAO’s Information Technology and Cybersecurity team, DHS concurred with all 10 recommendations. Crumpacker outlined DHS’s plans to address all recommendations, anticipating that most will be completed by October 2021.

Despite the need for improvement, GAO did commend DHS on several Agile strides. DHS has already “fully implemented” several practices such as adjusting its acquisition policies to support Agile development and adjusting agency activities to support Agile development.

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Katie Malone
Katie Malone
Katie Malone is a MeriTalk Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.