Johnson proclaims management philosophy for DHS as a ‘unity of effort’

A new memo calls for a more unified decision-making effort that is supported by data and analysis. Secretary Jeh Johnson is focusing on making programs more eff...

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson is putting his own stamp on the OneDHS concept. Johnson issued a memo April 22 calling for a “unity of effort” across all of DHS.

The memo offers the first look into Johnson’s management approach and philosophy. The Senate confirmed Johnson in December to take over for Janet Napolitano as secretary.

“Since taking office, Secretary Johnson has been committed to improving the operational effectiveness of DHS,” a DHS spokeswoman said in an emailed statement. “On April 22, the secretary issued a memo to DHS leadership outlining steps to ensure the broad and complex DHS mission is effectively executed.”

In the memo, which was first obtained by Homeland Security Watch, Johnson called for a unified decision-making effort that is supported by data and analysis.

As part of the unified decision-making effort, Johnson is creating a departmental leadership council that will meet twice a month to talk about issues and challenges.

Johnson also is bringing together a deputies management action group led by the undersecretary of management and the CFO to look at requirements analysis, do joint planning and budgeting around common needs. The undersecretary for management also will conduct a full review of DHS’ acquisition framework and policies to see where it can be improved.

Additionally, the deputies management action group led two different 60-day reviews to look at how best to improve coordination operations, both domestically and internationally.

Mark Borkowski, the assistant commissioner in the Office of Technology, Innovation and Acquisition at the Customs and Border Protection directorate, said the memo’s goals have a clear impact on the acquisition workforce.

“I saw it as kind of a statement of principles. I think it’s consistent with OneDHS, but the way I read the memo, I think the secretary is trying to take it to the next level in terms of particular constructs, particular vehicles and particular structures in the department that will cause and motivate the department to act in a more integrated way,” said Borkowski, who spoke Thursday at AFCEA Bethesda’s Law Enforcement IT day. “It’s not inconsistent with OneDHS, and I don’t know if the secretary would say it’s the same, different or whatever, but it does look like what Secretary Johnson is trying to do is establish some principles which will put into practice actual activities that cause the department to think more holistically across it as it’s solving particular problems.”

Improving all levels of process

The acquisition workforce, in many regards, is the lynchpin to these efforts as it cuts through every part of the agency.

“The secretary expects the acquisition community to be accountable, expects it to define roles, define accountabilities, define authorities and make sure it’s clearly understood, who’s responsible and who’s able to address issues with acquisition,” Borkowski said. “It also indicates an intent to really strengthen the departmental governance processes in acquisition.”

He added the memo also wants DHS to do a better job in the pre-acquisition phase, where components get together to look at operational needs to decide which should be integrated and which should be kept separate.

“It creates, or directs, the creation of a structure to do that process in a more unity of effort, again, among the components of DHS. That’s a pre-acquisition process,” he said. “People like me would be advisers, consultants, who talk about the art of the doable. But we would receive that, and that is something we have not yet had strong capacity to receive, so it does those kinds of things.”

Along those lines, Borkowski said there are different roles within the acquisition process:

  • The person who fulfills the “what are we buying,” usually the chief information officer
  • The person who fulfills the “how are we buying it,” usually the acquisition person
  • The person who fulfills the “why are we buying it,” usually the end user or mission owner.

He said these are principles of strong acquisition processes — something DHS hasn’t always done.

“The secretary’s memo is not about just the why or just the what, but the integration of those things and the integration of those things as unity of effort across the components of DHS,” he said. “So it brings it a higher level of strategic insight and directs the creation of mechanisms to make that real.”

This unity of effort concept also could help industry understand DHS’ needs better, and vice versa. Recently, vendors have grown frustrated with the lack of communication from DHS about upcoming procurements.

“What I’m doing is taking industry perspective on topics that are of the highest concern to them — more global topics not specifically related to a procurement — and bringing it to our workforce so they can better understand it,” said Jose Arrieta, the procurement ombudsman at DHS. “So what does industry understand about best value and lowest-price technically acceptable, and what don’t they understand? And have them explain it to our workforce. I think that brings that message of unity directly to them, because we are listening and we’re learning. It’s not related to a specific procurement, so it’s much easier in my role.”

The unity of effort concept ties closely to ongoing initiatives around OneDHS and in other areas, such as strategic sourcing.

Borkowski said DHS traditionally has used strategic sourcing to buy commodity products, whether it’s ammunition or uniforms or even some technology products.


Taking this unity of effort concept broader, Borkowski said the idea is to look at more complex acquisitions. He used a made-up example of a maritime radar system that several components would use.

“Where this gets very rich is when you have a discussion that says, ‘OK, I know that at CBP, I have this unique requirement. And if I have this unique requirement, it kind of throws out the idea of buying the same radar. Can I give that up for the greater good? Can I give up my unique requirement and take the radar that we will both buy and accept that performance, because from a DHS perspective that’s the optimal solution. It might not be from the CBP perspective, but from the totality of DHS, it may be the optimal solution,'” he said. “That’s the dialogue we want to have going forward, and that’s a lot different than strategic sourcing.”

Another existing effort that fits into this concept is Integrated Project Team (IPT), run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s technology office.

Jim Porter, the director of mission systems development in the Office of the Chief Information Officer at ICE, said the IPT has been around for several years and brings together the IT, finance, acquisition and mission folks around the requirements development process.

“The most challenging problems we have are better solved by a multi-disciplined team. We are reaping the benefits of that,” Porter said. “Previously, and maybe some more failed experiments have been, the requirement comes over and we do our analysis from an IT shop. We go back and forth. It gets to contracts, and they have their own idea about what we need to do in acquiring the solution. The IPTs have actually streamlined that entire process and really worked well for us.”

He said ICE has used an IPT at the field level and across components to ensure there is coordination to develop shared requirements. ICE also brings the industry perspective through market research or through RFIs into the IPT concept to ensure they understand what’s possible from a technology perspective.

Additionally, Porter said the IPT concept helps create a long-term vision for the program and keeps ICE as much ahead of the technology curve as possible through things like piloting the latest devices or IT.


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