DHS Science and Technology seeks help to find its ‘North Star’

The Homeland Security Department is crowdsourcing its next set of research areas.

Reggie Brothers, the undersecretary for Science and Technology at DHS, launched a new effort Tuesday on ideascale asking federal, state, local, private sector, academia and anyone else interested in the homeland security mission to offer ideas, suggestions or vote on what others have suggested.

“We are asking all people who are interested to look at these visionary goals and give us feedback,” Brothers said in an interview with Federal News Radio Tuesday. “These visionary goals are something that may be achievable in the 20- to 30-year time frame or maybe not at all. The point is to give us a North Star, if you will, a guiding vector, of what kind of capabilities we may need in the future.”

The proposed visionary goals are broad enough to incorporate a number of different ideas, yet specific enough to appeal to an assortment of stakeholders.

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The visionary goals are:

  • Screening at Speed: DHS wants to look at noninvasive screening to provide comprehensive threat protection that meets the pace that many people expect.
  • A Trusted Cyber Future: The goal is to protect privacy, commerce, and community against cyber attacks. “Frictionless security will operate seamlessly in the background, based on self- detecting, self-protecting and self-healing cyber critical infrastructure — all without disruption,” DHS stated.
  • Enable the Decision Maker: DHS will provide actionable information to law enforcement and other emergency personnel ahead of incident. The goal is to improve situational awareness so emergency personnel can better understand risks, weigh options and take action.
  • Responder of the Future: The goal is to ensure first responders are protected, connected and fully aware of the dangers they face. “Armed with comprehensive physical protection; interoperable, networked tools; technology-enhanced threat detection and mitigation capabilities; and timely, actionable information, the responder of the future will be able to serve more safely and effectively as an integral part of the nation’s resiliency,” DHS stated.

“If you start looking at the quadrennial Homeland Security Review, if you look at Secretary [Jeh Johnson’s] priorities and if you look at the policies coming out of the White House, what you find is a number of different missions that have been articulated,” he said. “Then you start looking at those missions, and you starting thinking about what are some of the cross-cutting capabilities that we need to enable those missions. Then you take it further and you say, ‘What can we achieve? What can we look for far in the future on the horizon somewhere?’ And that’s how you get to these.”

Brothers added these four broad areas aren’t the only topics where Science and Technology wants input. He said any homeland security topic is open to discussion.

“The point is to reach out to everyone and say, ‘What do you think the problem is? What do you think we should be thinking about as the Homeland Security enterprise?’ And let us know,” he said. “There may be some things we haven’t thought about, and there are some things that could be suggested that don’t quite fit in here. But these are broad areas and were purposely made broad so we could capture a lot of different areas.”

No concerns about Death Star suggestions

DHS S&T will keep the ideascale effort through Sept. 7 and then use the suggestions as part of its 5- to 10-year strategic plan. The plan will baseline current capabilities, outline future goals and come up with a roadmap to get from the “as-is” to the “to-be” state.

“The plan is something we would like to share with our stakeholders, so we can energize this science and technology ecosystem,” Brothers said.

This DHS effort follows the lead of several crowdsourcing efforts run by nearly every agency.

The White House’s We the People effort has garnered the most attention of all the crowdsourcing efforts, partly because some of the topics gathered enough signatures for the administration to have to consider, like building a Death Star or formal acknowledgement of the existence of extraterrestrials.

Brothers said his office is ready to deal with the sublime and silly ideas.

“We hope that people take this seriously and come up with good suggestions and constructive criticism, if necessary,” he said.

This is Brothers’ first major effort since the Senate confirmed him in April to be DHS undersecretary. He came to DHS after serving as the Defense Department’s deputy assistant secretary for Defense research for four years. Brothers replaced Tara O’Toole, who served as DHS undersecretary for Science and Technology for five years before leaving in 2013.

A more outward, collaborative organization

Brothers said an empowered workforce is among his top priorities.

“We are not going to be able to do this unless we have a workforce that is empowered, excited and connected,” he said. “It’s important that we as an organization, which is made up of people, are part of this hyper-connected ecosystem.”

DHS vendors also will play a key role in Brothers’ vision. He said a closer relationship with the science and technology industrial base will help DHS understand where technology is going and what’s possible now and in the future.

“What I’m looking at is having a balanced portfolio from near term to potentially disruptive technologies. I think it’s important that we have high impact projects. It’s important that we also do near-term projects, where we take availability of high feasibility types of things,” he said. “I’m looking forward to much more of an outwardly facing organization where we are working with our industry partners and collaborating across government. I’m trying to increase our collaboration and external facing with our stakeholders.”

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