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By Nick Wakeman

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Nick Wakeman

DHS officials look for more industry cooperation

We had a strong lineup at our Homeland Security Department Industry Day, and each of our DHS speakers – from DHIS CIO Luke McCormack to FEMA’s deputy director for acquisitions Lester Ingol -- hit on the theme of collaboration with industry.

The push is coming from the top where DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson launched last year the concept he calls the “Unity of Effort.” The initiative is designed for the department to move forward in a more unified fashion, and that is having a big impact on acquisition efforts.

One area discussed by McCormack is how DHS is utilizing its two data centers. The contracts supporting them are being converted to a more consumption-based model. In essence, DHS is creating a private cloud where DHS components can access what they need.

“It’s creating an open market of capabilities, and it brings a lower barrier of entry so we have more competition,” he said.

DHS also is embracing the Digital Service model with its emphasis on Agile development and shorter turnaround times on getting results. “We’re not looking at five-year, complete lifecycle kinds of projects,” he said.

This approach means that it is critical that industry and DHS understand each other and communicate with each other. Communications is critical to reducing risk, said Harrison Smith, DHS liason.

“We want to reduce your risk,” Smith told the audience of contractors, because risk to industry translates into higher costs for the government.

“With communication, we get more mature solutions that are more aligned with our needs,” he said.

But there are still barriers to this cooperation, not just between DHS and industry but inside DHS, said Mark Borkowski, assistant commissioner for the Office of Technology and Acquisition, at Customs and Border Protection.

Borkowski jokingly threw his program and papers in the air and told the audience, “Good Luck” when it comes to understanding acquisition at DHS and at CBP in particular.

The problem is that even though DHS was created in 2003, it is still multiple components from different agencies that were mashed together. For example, CBP has the Border Patrol Justice Department, elements of the Agriculture Department to inspect food entering the country, and its own navy and air force for patrolling ports. Each has different needs, cultures and priorities.

There isn’t the infrastructure there for long term planning and development of contracts. The results are debacles such as the Secure Border Initiative, which cost billions and netted little results.

Things are improving, Borkowski said, but there remains a tension between the need to deploy technology quickly and the structure and discipline required by acquisition regulations, he said.

That structure and discipline is needed so that CBP can have a better relationship with industry, and the better relationship is needed in order for CBP to buy the right solutions to meet its mission, he said.

“The opportunities to hear from industry have been limited,” Borkowski said.

But the need for creating a collaborative environment with industry is critical for DHS’ success, said Bill Weinberg, head of the contracting activity for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“A collaborative environment is important to our end product,” he said.

DHS needs to hear from industry because “the government often doesn’t know what it needs or how to communicate what it needs when it does know,” Weinberg said. “We need to talk to industry in general so we have a better idea of what is available and what will work.”

But it is hard to change from a hands off approach when it comes to working with industry to a more collaborative effort, FEMA’s Ingol said. “But we have to leverage industry’s knowledge,” he said.

Nearly a year ago, FEMA had an industry day to discuss a series of procurements it was planning and now has released revised performance work statements for industry’s review, Ingol said.

The PWSs cover areas such as operations and maintenance, applications engineering, security operations center support, assessment and authorization support and information systems security.

“We want to make sure you have a chance for Q&A and let us know if this makes sense,” Ingol said. “We are trying to change the way we communicate.”

FEMA also is considering using more existing vehicles rather than developing its own. Eagle 2 looks like it will get a significant amount of FEMA procurements.

Click here for where I outline some of the specific technology needs discussed during the industry day.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Dec 01, 2015 at 9:32 AM

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