HOMELAND SECURITY

DHS Technology Directorate Undergoes Major Changes

2/1/2011
By Stew Magnuson
Department of Homeland Security Undersecretary for Science and Technology Tara O’Toole has radically restructured her division in an effort to rapidly field devices needed by DHS agencies as well as first responders.

Among the major structural changes in the directorate is the creation of an acquisition support and operational analysis division that will select what programs S&T will pursue. It will also assist the 22 DHS agencies in writing requirements and strengthening their acquisition programs, O’Toole said at a National Defense Industrial Association luncheon.   

Three other new divisions include one devoted to the unique needs of first responders, a second to coordinate research and development partnerships with universities and centers of excellence and a restructured Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency.

The S&T directorate was previously organized into divisions based on sectors such as critical infrastructure protection, chemical-biological defense, explosives detection, maritime and border security. Those will now all come under the HSARPA division, she said. A cyber-security section has been added to that list, she said.

There will no longer be a budget line for each of the sectors. Instead, research and development funds will be held in one pot of money. The divisions will have to compete for the funds by coming forward with compelling ideas that have a high chance of being fielded in a timely manner, she said.

Basic research, or “science projects,” will no longer receive the bulk of funding, except in a few select fields such as trace explosive detection, O’Toole said.

“We have got to develop products to use … We have got to get products in the field,” she said.

In an interview with National Defense last year, O’Toole indicated that the directorate was supporting too many programs that never reached fruition. Part of the problem was that DHS component agencies, with the exception of the Coast Guard, did not have deep acquisition experience. The directorate is sending advisors to the agencies where they can assist them with writing requirements.

In the past, the agencies didn’t have the budgets to train personnel on how to use new technologies or to fund operational tests. As a result, many devices withered on the vine. The directorate will now fund field tests, she said.

“We’re going to be doing fewer projects in terms of absolute numbers. They’re not necessarily going to be smaller projects,” she said.  “What I don’t want to do are tiny projects that don’t have enough oomph to get over the line to transition. That’s what we can’t afford. I want to put more resources toward the projects we do to get a higher likelihood that they will transition to use.”

The directorate will also be funding high-priority “Apex” projects, which will only be pursued if the technology can be fielded in 18 to 24 months. The head of the DHS agency requesting the technology will have to personally certify that it is a critical need, she said. Two Apex projects, one for the Secret Service and one for Customs and Border Protection, are already under way, she said.

As for the first responder division, many of the technologies fire fighters and police have bought in recent years have ended up collecting dust because local governments don’t have the money to maintain them. That is unacceptable when these agencies have such tight budgets, she said.

“We need to be very careful about what we develop and what we buy in this economic climate,” she added.

Topics: Homeland Security, DHS Leadership

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