Perot taps DHS trailblazer
Bucella offers lessons learned from the inside
- By David Hubler
- Sep 28, 2007
"The key thing ? not only for the organization but for the people in the organization ? is to do an incremental build so you're constantly moving forward." ? Donna Bucella, Perot Systems
Recruiting Donna Bucella to lead Perot Systems Corp.'s homeland security sector was a sure sign that the government contractor wanted a bigger slice of the homeland defense pie. The hire was a no-brainer for Jim Ballard, president of Perot Systems Government Services.
"She brings to Perot Systems an extensive knowledge and understanding of the Home- land Security Department's mission," he said. "Donna's work at the Terrorist Screening Center significantly transformed the way the government tracks terrorists."
Bucella, who joined Perot Systems Government Services in June as senior vice president, helped create the Transportation Security Administration in 2002. A year later, she organized the Terrorist Screening Center.
"There aren't many people who have been in a more high-profile, more scrutinized position than working with the Terrorist Screening Center," said Scott Hastings, a principal at Deep Water Point LLC consulting group. He worked with Bucella when he was director of DHS' U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology program.
"When you're trying to integrate information [and] integrate mission needs, there aren't many people who can do that effectively," Hastings said.
Along with her operations experience, Bucella brings vast procurement and contracting expertise to Perot Systems. "You have to have the technological experience and, quite frankly, the everyday practical use experience," she said. "I can scan DHS requests for proposals and say, 'I don't think that's what they need. I don't think that's what they want.'"
Perot Systems entered the government market in 2002, so "we are fairly new in the government services part of the market," she said. The company is competing against many well-established federal contractors such as Lockheed Martin Corp., Science Applications Inter- national Corp. and Computer Sciences Corp.
To succeed, Perot Systems must "think out of the proverbial box and try new things and maybe have a number of alternatives because, when it comes to homeland defense, it's not one-size-fits-all along our borders," Bucella said.
Connecting systems to foster information sharing is one important homeland security need, she said. "How can you share information if your systems don't talk to one another?" she asked.
The creation of DHS has altered and expanded contracting opportunities because the government has become more reliant on contractors' expertise. That is good, Bucella said, because often what agencies think they're asking for and what they need is not necessarily the same thing.
"That's why it's so important for the partnership between the government and contracting companies to get together and say, 'OK, tell us what you want and we'll tell you what we can really build. And what do you want to really use it for?' " she said.
At the same time, contractors must know how to build a solution that meets requirements without breaking the bank and takes future possible needs into consideration.
"You don't have to build a Cadillac," she said. "A Saturn might be just as good. The key thing ? not only for the organization but for the people in the organization ? is to do an incremental build so you're constantly moving forward. The idea is to be able to add to the systems and modify them but not scrap them."
Hastings said it is difficult to write a DHS proposal because it is not "a mature and stable department yet."
When a DHS component, such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement or TSA, writes contract requirements, they "are large and complicated, and they come from within a department that is still trying to find new ways to do business as a whole," he said.
Contractors dealing with DHS must address specific mission requirements, which are often difficult and complex, and recognize that each requirement must also be understood within the context of the overall department, Hastings said.
"That's where a person like Donna adds special value," he said. "As a former integrator of missions herself, she understands that [the contracting process] all takes place within a larger context. Her demonstrated ability to look across and understand that it's part of a whole is a great asset."
Providing the information agencies need for their specific purposes is crucial, Bucella said. And that area is fertile ground for Perot Systems because it can take advantage of its history of designing communication systems for health care providers, for whom sharing information is essential.
Bucella views the company's focus on homeland security as going beyond DHS to include law enforcement and intelligence agencies because all three activities intersect with one another.
"Enhanced communication is the key," she said.Associate Editor David Hubler can be reached at email@example.com.
David Hubler is the former print managing editor for GCN and senior editor for Washington Technology. He is freelance writer living in Annandale, Va.