Magazine article National Defense

Firms That Help DHS Save Money Will Make Money, Analysts Say

Magazine article National Defense

Firms That Help DHS Save Money Will Make Money, Analysts Say

Article excerpt

The days of big price tag, cutting-edge technology acquisitions at the Department of Homeland Security are over.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

After nearly a decade, the money spigot has been turned off, as one executive put it.

Advanced portals to scan shipping containers for nukes? Canceled. A virtual fence spanning hundreds of miles along the Southwest border. Forget it. A fleet of 24 Predator B drones at the ready? Customs and Border Protection will have to settle for 10.

The Transportation Security Administration bought so much baggage screening equipment so fast that millions of dollars worth of the machines are piled up unused in a Texas warehouse.

The department and its 22 components never did master the art of acquisition management, a recent House Homeland Security Committee report pointed out. Initiatives to tighten up the department's contracting practices have not been followed, Rep. Michael T. McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of the oversight, investigations and management subcommittee, said in the report.

"Consequently, poorly managed programs have resulted in capabilities that are delivered late, cost more and do less than expected," the report said.

DHS' mixed record when it comes to fielding complex, advanced technologies--particularly those in the public's eye and Congress' crosshairs--coupled with the looming federal budget crunch and possible draconian cuts in the form of sequestration, means a dearth of new high-profile programs, executives and analysts who spoke to National Defense agreed.

John Hernandez, senior aerospace and defense analyst at Frost & Sullivan, said, "Most talk about sequestration has been about DoD, but DHS is not immune. It's also an election year, which always seems to slow down government spending, and companies are somewhat apprehensive about the future."

But there are ongoing initiatives in the information technology realm within the department, insiders said. It's not glamorous, but there will be business opportunities, especially for firms that can show the department how to save money.

"It's a little bit boring. It's not as cool as drones over the border, but on the flipside ... this is not risky business. We know we can save money. We know we can help," said Paul Christman, president and CEO of Quest Software's public sector subsidiary.

The department has embarked on behind-the-scenes projects to put its cybersecurity, interoperability and computing houses in order. Seamlessly integrating its workforce so a Coast Guard officer, for example, can communicate effortlessly with a CBP agent, and have access to his or her data when needed is one of the goals. It also wants an identity management system in place so these personnel, along with outsiders in the public safety sector, can access public or classified data wherever they are and when they need it--but only if they are authorized.

DHS also needs to sharply reduce its computing costs. To do so, it is in the process of consolidating 23 data centers down to two.

The department wants its network operations and information technology to be "simplified, efficient and cost effective," said Stephanie Sullivan, a consultant with immixGroup's Market Intelligence division, which provides insights into DHS for some 200 businesses that are looking to score contracts.

Of the civilian departments, DHS in 2012 has the second largest IT budget in the federal government, lagging only slightly behind Health and Human Services, she said. Some years, it has been the largest.

The department is looking at a range of cloud-based services with mobile capabilities, she said.

"Going forward, data will be maintained in DHS data centers, wrapped with mobile capabilities, enabling employees to work on a variety of devices with security architecture," she said.

As far as communications is concerned, DHS plans to move from a land mobile to a 4G network in the next five years. …

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