DHS: Collaboration with industry ‘will make us stronger’

Top managers at the Homeland Security Department promised more innovation under the agency’s Unity of Effort, and a pledge to collaborate with industry.

Russell Deyo, DHS under secretary for management, told the audience at the 2016 Homeland Security Conference hosted by AFCEA, that creative thinking and communication between DHS and the private sector was necessary to meet mission goals.

“We are working hard to be innovative, we are working hard to improve processes, we are working really hard to be open and communicative,” Deyo said. “Collaboration is going to make us stronger. We have a joint responsibility to fulfill our responsibilities to the mission. We can only succeed by working together. We are dedicated to becoming better listeners and partners. Change is hard, but we are working it hard.”

“We’re absolutely committed to improving [acquisition and procurement] and working closely with you, and this was part of the secretary’s Unity of Effort,” Deyo added. “When he launched the memo, he talked about Acquisition Innovations in Motion (AIiM), a framework for communication to you of our approach, a focus on improving the processes and procedures, a focus on consistent training so that every component has well-trained contract experts.”

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One of the components of AIiM is the Procurement Innovation Lab (PIL), and Deyo said under PIL new programs are being implemented, such as the Flexible Agile Support for the Homeland (FLASH) project.

And in late May the agency filed a request for information for the first publicly announced potential future contract opportunity for a PIL project.

“The purpose is to create a DHS-wide contract vehicle to provide agile software development services,” Deyo said. “The project plans to use innovative procurement techniques. The idea was to use video here:  Vendors submitting video presentations instead of written proposals.”

Working better together

DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson introduced the “Unity” concept in 2014, in an effort to strengthen the ties among the department’s 22 component agencies, each with their own disparate missions. The goal is to bring some budget and decision-making together under one roof.

Deyo said DHS was working with the General Services Administration in 12 regions across the country to combine office, warehouse and other spaces, including “outreach to consumers and others, to save a lot of money, and also, as all of you understand, drive better collaboration.”

“When the people you’re working with are in the same building, down the hall, you just work better,” Deyo said.

That 12-region initiative has a two-part goal, said Chip Fulghum, DHS chief financial officer and deputy under secretary for management.

“We’re looking for … mission efficiency and we’re looking to save a buck,” Fulghum said. “And we’re making real progress. The folks on the ground out there, have embraced this idea because they work together every day.”

Both men spoke about the importance of hiring and employee morale. Deyo gave a few more details on the DHS hiring fair later this summer, sharing that it will be held in Washington July 27-28, with the goal of hiring at least 300 people that day.

“Everyone here knows how hard it is to attract and retain these people,” Deyo said when referring to cybersecurity personnel. “The good news for us is our mission is attractive, the good news for us is we know how to integrate them into the system so they’re recognized and valued and working on meaningful projects. But we’ve got to get better at this. I think we need systems where people come in for 3 years, go back to private industry, then come back. We’ve just got to increase our flexibility. There’s a lot of myth about what you can and can’t do, we’re trying to separate myth from reality.”

Deyo said he was also shocked that DHS had the lowest employee morale levels of any federal agency, since “the mission is so motivating.”

Deyo said each component now has its own employee engagement plan, and these plans are customized to the needs of their employees.

Fulghum highlighted what he called “Big A acquisitions,” and the progress made with the DHS Joint Requirements Council.

The council makes sure “we’ve got the requirement right up front, so that folks like you know what it is we need, so that when we meet together at the end to go actually buy it, you’re delivering for us the right capability, that joint requirement council is working. It’s still what I”d call a toddler, it’s still got some growing to do, but it’s working I believe very well.”

Deyo also hailed the joint council as a way to provide “a clear understanding and clear definition of capability.”

 Acquisition and transition

Deyo told the audience DHS was committed to improving the acquisition and procurement process, and one way that’s done is through open, candid roundtables and reverse industry days.

“Instead of us lecturing to you, panels of members from industry working in critical areas spoke to our people and we had a great chance to hear the complaints, problems, what’s working, what’s not, what are the highest priorities, how do we go about it,” Deyo said.

Both men also have their eye on the November election. Fulghum said he was “doubly committed” to “pour concrete over” the department’s progress and priorities to ensure that when the next administration comes in, it can build on what’s already started.

“Our leadership, that dream team, is committed to making that happen,” Fulghum said.

Under the Management Directorate Integrated Priority Areas — which is guided by the Unity of Effort — hiring is the biggest priority, Deyo said, and that ties in to the transition.

“Whatever administration follows us, whatever the new leadership is, we want to have a department that builds on the work of the people who came before us, to make it function better and better and better,” Deyo said. “Whatever your policies are, the better it’s functioning, the more successful we will be. This is our focus on a day to day basis.”