I recently testified before Congress, and much of what I had to say was of interest to integrators that may seek business with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and its research wing, known as the Science and Technology (S&T) Directorate.
Specifically, on May 19, I accepted the invitation of Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas), chairman of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Security Technologies, to appear before his panel on behalf of the Security Industry Association (SIA) to discuss the relationship between DHS S&T and the security industry — a relationship that is taking on new dynamics since the confirmation of DHS S&T Under-secretary Dr. Reginald Brothers last year.
Integrators are a valuable part of what is called the “homeland security industrial base,” as they have the important knowledge and skills of how to pull together complex security projects.
The rapid pace of technology advancement in the security industry, particularly in the identity and biometrics space, offers a lot of potential to combat homeland security threats. Harnessing these advances funded by the private sector will maximize the return on taxpayer dollars.
From SIA’s perspective, S&T programs that have had the most success are often those that integrate off-the-shelf technology developed commercially to provide solutions that both meet operational capability gaps and provide new opportunities for industry.
Take for example, the Mobile Biometrics Program. The recent Stockton Latent Print Mobile Pilot, concluded in fiscal 2014, demonstrated the results of putting mobile latent fingerprint capture devices in the hands of law enforcement. Using this technology, latent prints were collected from crime scenes and then matched against the local fingerprint search database in as little as two minutes.
For such projects, even if a federal agency doesn’t purchase the resulting tools, companies might develop game-changing solutions using products, technologies and new processes to meet the needs of state and local law enforcement or others.
In April, Brothers unveiled the directorate’s 2015-19 strategic plan, part of which discusses how the directorate plans to strengthen outreach to the homeland security industrial base. The plan correctly acknowledges that technology is now evolving so quickly that it often outpaces traditional government R&D and acquisition vehicles.
Meanwhile, technology-based solutions are more important than ever to achieving the missions of DHS agencies like U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Transportation Security Administration.
The strategic plan is the best effort SIA has seen to provide longterm direction to S&T’s activities and to improve prioritization and coordination of S&T projects. The plan calls for ramping up to a “surge effort” on engaging the homeland security industrial base by fiscal 2016. For this to be successful, SIA offered several suggestions for areas of improvement.
S&T research and testing ultimately helps inform decision-making on acquisitions among DHS agencies. However, many agencies have their own internally funded research that can be used. The strategic plan offers several proposals on how to better coordinate and reduce duplication of efforts.
The business case could also be improved through portfolio balance and prioritization. Given the limited size of the S&T budget, many see the existing portfolio as too large, causing projects to be supported at levels insufficient to capitalize on successes as funding runs out. Under the strategic plan, S&T would address this issue through a reduction in the total number of portfolio projects, as funding shifts to higher priorities.
DHS must ensure the technology vendor community is considered a project stakeholder on an equal footing with end users and other parties. Industry partners must have an opportunity to review and provide input on any end-to-end analysis of the development and evaluation of engineered systems.
One of the biggest challenges faced by S&T leadership is how to prioritize and balance the S&T research portfolio. Given the limited size of the S&T budget, SIA feels the portfolio may be too wide, leaving insufficient funding for projects to be concluded in a timely or successful manner. Here, S&T appears to be moving in the right direction.
SIA offers integrators an exclusive avenue for continuing talks with DHS S&T. I invite you to be a part of that dialogue.
Jake Parker, SIA director of government relations, can be reached at jparker@ securityindustry.org.