New DHS Administration Promises More Transparency With Contractors, Public

By Stew Magnuson

PHOENIX, Ariz. — After more than a decade of several high profile technology failures that have plagued the Department of Homeland Security, a senior official promised that DHS would be more open with the public and contractors as well as a better steward of taxpayer dollars.

There will be a new direction at DHS, Alejandro Mayorkas, its deputy secretary said March 18 at the Border Security Expo here. "And that is really emphasizing and strengthening our transparency, our engagement as well as our partnerships."

There is a "tremendous public thirst" to understand what the department's challenges are and how it intends to meet them, he added.

More transparency will result in better understanding as to how DHS decisions will affect the private sector, more trust in how it executes its missions, better visibility, and therefore, accountability for what it does, he said.

"Criticism drives a more responsible federal government," Mayorkas said. "We in the government do not have a monopoly on the best ideas," which is why he is a proponent of more engagement with the private sector.

"I think engagement will yield a stronger, a more responsive, and a more resilient Department of Homeland Security," he added.

As far as acquiring new products, Mayorkas said when he was director at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, he used short-term contracts that delivered incremental improvements to the technology it used, which made the agency more nimble. He said he plans on continuing that practice.

"I really think ... that is the direction that we need to go," he said. Considering how quickly technology advances, it is too "precarious" for the government to enter into long-term contracts to acquire certain technologies. The result may be delivering antiquated systems to users. He gave as an example a four-year process to convert a paper-based system to a digital system at USCIS.

As a consumer, the government must be on the cutting edge of technology, he said.

Majorkas suggested that the government wasn't always getting the most for its money from contractors. "I intend to be extremely vigilant ensuring that we are getting the value that we deserve, and the public deserves, for the money that we spend," he said.

DHS has a responsibility to spend taxpayer dollars with a vision for the future, he said. "And there is a responsibility in the private sector to give us the greatest value to the money that we spend," Mayorkas said.

Mayorkas' comments come during a changing of the guard at DHS. He was sworn in as deputy secretary at the end of December, only a few weeks prior to Jeh Johnson taking  over as the department's fourth secretary. Also speaking at the conference was Customs and Border Protection Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske, who was sworn in 10 days ago after that job had been held by acting commissioners for several years.

Topics: Homeland Security, DHS Budget, DHS Leadership, DHS Policy

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