Buy Lines | The Safety Act: It's getting better all the time

Congress designed the Safety Act to create a critical risk and litigation management system that limits liabilities of the companies that deploy anti-terror technology services and products. Without such protection, few vendors would be able ? or willing ? to enter a market so fraught with risk and uncertainty.

This is why the act has been such a high priority for industry and why, after a slow start and several years of confusion and debate, it is so heartening to see progress finally being made.

The Homeland Security Department in June published a final rule implementing the Safety Act. This rule recognizes the importance of the act's coverage in the procurement process to avoid forcing companies to make untenable decisions or field capabilities without appropriate protection.

The rule lets government agencies seek a preliminary pre-qualification designation, which gives bidders some assurance that the selected solution will meet basic criteria for coverage under the act and will get expedited review of their applications for coverage.

The final rule also restates DHS' intent to protect companies' proprietary information submitted as part of the application, greatly clarifies the application kit itself, and allows for much-needed "block designations" and "block certifications" for groups of technologies.

Finally, the rule creates a category, developmental testing and evaluation, designed to give limited Safety Act coverage for promising anti-terror technologies and capabilities that are under development. This new coverage is of special importance to the services sector.

The act always covered services, but some application requirements for designation and certification appear to be focused on proven technologies, a test that could be met by many products but might be more difficult to achieve in the services sector. Many solutions provided by services companies are developed or designed to meet individual customer needs.

While congressional intent to cover services equally with products was clear, earlier versions of the Safety Act rule struggled with the issue. This conflict was the source of much of the early debate over implementing the rules, and even caused one former senior Homeland Security Department official to tell a 2003 meeting of the Professional Services Council board of directors that the agency simply had not yet figured out how to handle services.

Despite the solid progress that the final rule achieves, much more remains to be done. For example, the rule provides that certain applicants may use a streamlined application kit, but there is not kit yet. Although the rule clarifies much, and likely will ease what will still be a challenging application process, it doesn't reduce the amount of information required by that process. In fact, in some critical areas of the application, the information required is expanded over the earlier version.

Much more needs to be done to robustly connect the Safety Act application process, which DHS manages, and the procurement process. This challenge becomes even more acute when an agency other than DHS is executing the procurement.

And while the act and regulations cover state, local and even commercial procurements, there is no process yet to enable and facilitate application approvals for those procurements.

DHS deserves credit for advancing the Safety Act process in a meaningful way, but important work remains to be done. This is no time to slow down.

Stan Soloway is president of the Professional Services Council. His e-mail is

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