Better procurement, communication needed at DHS

Procurement transparency and dialogue were big themes at Washington Technology’s DHS Industry Day as department officials shared their thoughts on how DHS can become a better buyer and a better partner to industry.

Procurement transparency and dialogue were big themes at Washington Technology’s DHS Industry Day this morning, and agency representatives stressed the improvement of both.

As many Homeland Security agencies adjust to and bring in new technologies, even more emphasis needs to be put on the department's wants and needs, and how DHS forms partnership with industry.

Biometrics is a case in point.

“Congress wants us to spend a billion dollars over the next few years on biometrics. We are in the process of designing the program to figure out what to ask for, so you will be seeing an attempt through things like RFIs and other mechanisms to ask you what you have available,” said Mark Borkowski, assistant commissioner of the Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Technology Innovation and Acquisition.

Borkowski was one of several DHS officials speaking at the event. Other speakers included CIO Luke McCormick and Chief Procurement Officer Soraya Correa.

“We want to use that information to find out, can I leverage this type of buying where you tell me what you have rather than I tell you what you must give me,” Borkowski said.

This kind of approach is being used across the board, he added.

As for the kinds of technologies the agency is looking for, CBP is focused on modernization.

“The business process reengineering initiatives are big with us. The one coming up: revenue modernization. We have CBP officers who actually have to sit at cash machines and collect cash, $10 to $15 dollars at a time, from individual travelers who come into the country,” Borkowski said.

Conversations between agency and company is more important than ever. Bill Weinberg, head of contracting activity at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, echoed what many respondents in our latest WT Insider report said: Current levels of disclosure are unsatisfactory.

Part of that is that companies do not ask questions when they should, he said.

“We’re trying to meet with companies before, during, and after procurements because we need to know those things, we need to know what we described is not clear,” Weinberg said. “We can’t make it better if we don’t know what to fix.”

Another issue the Homeland Security faces is its workforce. McCormack said that the agency has more than 1,000 IT and cybersecurity jobs to fill.

In order to attract talented IT professionals, the agency plans to develop an IT/cybersecurity hiring fair, though no date or time has yet been specified, he said.

While McCormick and Correa shared the stage, they emphasized the need for better internal communications at DHS and the need to tie IT and procurement closer to DHS' mission.