DHS Bends Tradition for Innovation
Department officials pursue creativity on multiple fronts.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is on a mis- sion to adopt innovation in an array of areas, includ- ing technology and acquisition. Officials hammered home that point during the AFCEA Homeland Security Conference in Washington, D.C., June 21-22. Creativity
feeds the maturation process, and in some
ways, pits innovation against tradition.
“The nature of innovation has changed.
The private sector outspends the U.S. government three to one on technology development and
innovation. And if you look at the actual innovation models
themselves, they’ve evolved,” said Christina Murata, executive advisor for technology and innovation, Operations Support Office, Customs and Border Protection (CBP), while
serving on an acquisition innovation panel.
In some cases, Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
officials are seeking innovative upgrades for legacy systems,
including Einstein, an aging system designed to help agencies manage cyber risk. Phyllis Schneck, deputy undersecretary for cybersecurity and communications, National
Protection and Programs Directorate, DHS, said the goal is
to help Einstein detect, analyze and respond to anomalous
activities much more rapidly than it is able to today. “Our
mantra is from months to milliseconds,” she said.
The department also is adopting new biometrics technology at airports, reported John Wagner, CBP Office of Field
Operations deputy assistant commissioner. Wagner told the
audience that a pilot program at the Atlanta airport will focus
on travelers leaving the country, something the United States
has not traditionally done. The facial recognition system collects images that are then compared to photo identifications of
travelers on the various outgoing flights. If successful, the pilot
program could be expanded to other locations.
Additionally, the Science and Technology (S&T) Directorate has joined the rush of government departments and
agencies to Silicon Valley in search of innovation gold. The
trend is to establish an office in the country’s technology
capital to find creative contractors who do not normally
work with the government. These entrepreneurs, usually
with startup companies, are seen as capable of providing
solutions government officials may not see from more experienced companies. “We have to think about reaching out to
nontraditional performers to make sure we get best-in-class
thinking for any of our complex problems,” Murata said.
In the words of one DHS official, the good thing about
traditional government contractors is that they have learned
to operate as government does, and the bad thing about
those contractors is that they have learned to operate as
government does. The DHS S&T Silicon Valley Innovation
Program, which reaches out to the non-traditional busi-
nesses, has awarded four contracts since December and has
three open solicitations, officials said.
Those open solicitations include one for Internet of
Things security. In addition, the Silicon Valley office seeks
wearables to monitor the health and performance of crime-fighting canines working with the CBP.
The third open solicitation also is for the CBP. The agency
seeks a Global Travel Assessment system. “This is an open-source software program that we hope other countries will
adopt for evaluating their commercial flying public in ways
similar to what CBP currently does with our proprietary
system,” Murata said.
To develop and deploy innovative technologies, the
department also is turning to less traditional procurement
practices. For example, the Silicon Valley Office, DHS S&T
Directorate, has replaced written proposals with a much
shorter process that allows companies to provide a 15-min-
ute oral presentation, shortly after which the DHS can
decide who receives awards.
The Silicon Valley office is working closely with the
recently created Procurement Innovation Lab, a virtual lab
that allows experimentation with inventive procurement
techniques and practices. It serves as a unique test environ-
ment for exploring and refining innovations in acquisition.
Eric Cho, the department’s acquisition innovation advocate,
told the audience that he likes thinking outside the box, but,
“There is a box.”
The trick is to find procurement processes that are
allowed but often under used. Cho pointed out the Federal
Acquisition Regulations (FAR) actually do contain the word
“innovation.” Furthermore, other authorities in addition to
the FAR also are available.
The DHS is sometimes like a confused teenager, said
Russell Deyo, undersecretary for management, but it is
maturing and growing and changing in a number of ways.
Innovation is the beating heart of growth, and in the coming years, innovation may be tradition. “You don’t usually
think of government, DHS and innovation together, but
we’re trying to move the needle,” said Melissa Ho, managing
director, Silicon Valley Office, DHS S&T Directorate.
BY GEORGE I.