With more priorities and rising personnel costs, DHS hopes analytics can make a bigger play

Strapped with new priorities, an ever-increasing workload and growing personnel costs, data analytics and artificial intelligence capabilities may soon get a closer look from tech leaders within the Homeland Security Department.

DHS has spent a relatively small share of its budget in recent years on automated data collection tools, processes and analytics, but that may need to change.

Personnel costs made up nearly 40 percent of the DHS budget in fiscal 2016, according to a joint study from Govini and AFCEA, which the organizations released during the May 10 Law Enforcement and Public Safety Technology Forum in Washington.

Those costs will only rise, as the department looks to hire 10,000 new immigration officers and 5,000 new border patrol agents to comply with the Trump administration’s new initiatives to enhance border security and law enforcement capabilities.

Yet recruiting and hiring 15,000 additional employees to meet the parameters of President Donald Trump’s executive orders will be a challenge. The process itself is lengthy and complicated, and DHS currently lacks the incentives to attract fresh talent to Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“It’s … no secret that we’ve had difficulty recruiting and bringing those folks on board, so we have to rely on technology in order to really meet our mission across our spectrum, from trade to the passenger processing piece,” said Daniel Tanciar, deputy executive director for policy and program analysis at CBP.

“Manpower isn’t going to be the solution to our needs, in terms of the increased travel,” he added.

Even without the administration’s new priorities for DHS, ICE and CBP have been busier in recent years.

CBP processes more than 1 million travelers to the U.S. daily through land, sea or air ports of entry, Tanciar said. International air travel processing went up nearly 36 percent between fiscal 2009 and 2016 and specifically hit a record 6 percent increase between 2015 and 2016.

Govini said it expects DHS will eventually catch up and begin to spend more on “smarter” technology on the Internet of Things (IoT).

The Homeland Security and Justice departments spent $11.3 billion on equipment and services related to the Internet of Things between fiscal 2010 and 2016, according to the study. Both departments spent $10.2 billion on devices to support border security and passenger processing activities during the past six years. And spending on sensors, one of the key components that allows IoT-connected devices to collect and exchange data, is only slowly beginning to increase, Govini said.

Yet law enforcement and security leadership say over time, they’ll need to spend more on these capabilities and less on personnel.

Tanciar said CBP’s automated passport control, global entry trusted traveler and mobile passport programs have all grown over the past few years, meaning the agency can rely on fewer people to be physically present to do the work.

“The key … novelty for that is really just using the data that we already have,” he said. “As a traveler, think about how many times you provide your … name, date of birth [and] passport number, when you buy your ticket, when you get to the airport, when you go through the security checkpoint, when you get on the airplane, when you land in the foreign country — the list is endless.”

CBP is continuing to develop biometric exit technology at its office in Atlanta.

DHS components are also looking for better technologies to assist the people they do have in the field.

ICE, for example, is looking for tools that can help immigration officers and others look through massive amounts of data for trends and risks, said the agency’s deputy director, Daniel Ragsdale.

“It’s really [about] making things actionable,” he said. “We have law enforcement officers, about 14,000 at ICE, who want something quick. They want something that is … distilled in a way where they can act quickly and get in front of something.”

Unlike CBP and ICE, the U.S. Marshals Service doesn’t expect it will begin a significant hiring spree in the near future. But the agency sees plenty of challenges now with the technology it already has.

“One of the biggest challenges we’ve had is actually getting that data into the hands into the individuals that are out in the field,” said Bill Snelson, associate director for operations at the Marshals Service. “Something as simple as being able to rapidly pull up photographs, criminal information, etc. on your phone when you’re standing in front of 10 individuals and you’re trying to determine how many of those may be wanted, has been a huge challenge.”

Ragsdale is also looking to the world of artificial intelligence for solutions, if ICE and DHS can modernize existing business systems and begin to invest in those capabilities.

“We are coming to a place that we certainly understand the idea of targeting and rules and looking at data for anomalies that you’ve seen based on [the] past,” he said. “That predictive capability, the idea of taking something that’s unstructured … from a search warrant and then being able to put that in a system where it’s not just relying on the skill of the employee, that would be something that would be in ten years [where] we’re making some progress.”

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