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A new guide from the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate is full of information for potential partners to take part in collaborative research and develop long term partnership opportunities. To learn more, Federal News Network’s Eric White spoke with Megan Mahle on the Federal Drive with Tom Temin . Mahle is director of industry partnerships in DHS’ office of innovation and collaboration.
Megan Mahle: At the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate, the industry partnerships are essential to how we do business. So we know that research and development doesn’t just happen in a vacuum. And it happens via collaborations with all sorts of partners. We have partnerships with academia, national laboratories, other international government partners, as well as the private sector. And so our hope in developing the partnership guide was to really put all the information in one spot and make it easy for people to learn how to work with us. So we have information in there about partnership opportunities, the kind of vehicles we use, the types of partners we’re looking for. And then the real meat in the back is a list of our research development test and evaluation priority areas.
Eric White: All right, so you put it out in front there for me. The meat of it, what are the evaluation areas that you are looking to focus on?
Megan Mahle: Sure. So the guide includes a list of five priority areas, with a number of different programs and projects underneath them. But at the very high level, the five areas are border security, chemical, biological and explosive defense, counterterrorism, cybersecurity, and information analysis. And then capabilities for first responders.
Eric White: What are the methods that you all use for engaging the industry side of things? Do they mostly come to you? Or do you really go out there digging and trying to get them to work with you?
Megan Mahle: I think it’s a little of both. And a big priority for us is to ensure that people aren’t having to go to sam.gov and search for some, you know, 75-page solicitation and figure out what we’re talking about. We’re really trying to break it down, and make it easier to digest the types of work that we are looking to do, and hope that it helps people want to understand what we’re trying to accomplish and see how it might connect with what they already have ongoing on the commercial side, potentially, and how that might map to DHS missions.
Eric White: And once you make that connection, what is the next step? Do you ever feel as if they’re kind of wary if its their first time working with you all? Or do you find that they are very accepting and trying to help towards what your mission is.
Megan Mahle: So I think the nice thing about DHS S&T Is that we have such a variety of ways to partner with us. It is not just, you know, a standard contract, we have a lot of programs that are focused specifically on small businesses, on startups, on citizens, you know, we have prize challenges that we put out that individual innovators could respond and win cash prizes for. So it really is a very wide variety of people that we’re looking for. And through this guide, we’re really hoping to engage with new people. We don’t want the same people all the time, we want people to be aware of what we’re doing and get excited and interested in our mission space, and really grow our network so that we have the private sector working together with us to address homeland security mission needs.
Eric White: Yeah, it seems as if a lot of the S&T folks, whether it’s at DHS, or on the space side, really, agencies that depend on innovative technologies are looking to expand the dome in the realm of people that they work with. What is the layout right now? Are you all working with a lot of different small businesses? Or is it a little bit more like the defense side where it’s three or four major players in the game?
Megan Mahle: I’d say we have a lot of small businesses, we have a lot of variety. I’m just always interested in getting more variety, you know, changing the face of who we’re working with just being as inclusive as possible. And I think, you know, for DHS, we have a lot of, you know, dual use possibilities. We have a lot of possibilities for people that could promote their technologies on the commercial market, in addition to selling back to the department. So I think we really have a lot of opportunity for innovators of all kinds. We know that innovation is happening in large businesses, and we know that it’s happening in the startup community. So we really have focused on developing a number of programs that sort of target all those types of audiences.
Eric White: Are there any major technologies that DHS uses today, whether it comes to border control or cybersecurity anything like that, that have been formulated strictly from a partnership that your office maybe even it was responsible for creating in the first place?
Megan Mahle: So we have an interesting program, the Silicon Valley innovation program. So that really is focused on the startup community. And it’s not just on Silicon Valley, we have startups that have been awarded from all over the U.S, and internationally. And we have some great examples of technologies that are in use by Customs and Border Protection, for example, that have grown out of the startup community, taking what they have already developed on the commercial side, and getting an understanding and relationships with our end users, and seeing how that fits into homeland security missions. So it’s really giving people access to understand how their technologies could be used by us and doing some tweaking and some small developments to really make it work within the department.
Eric White: Yeah, that tweaking that was kind of the nice segue way into what my next question is, which is, when you have a specific need that may not be commercially viable, what is your role in reaching out to companies who you think might be well-suited to fill that need? But not necessarily for any profit sake or anything? But just specifically for what you all want to use it for?
Megan Mahle: I think it varies. I mean, we have all sorts of entry points, whether it’s the the most basic of research to very advanced applied commercialization. So it really runs the gamut depending on the individual need. But I think the the opportunities that we have, as part of our tech transfer and commercialization mission as well, really allow us to sort of partner in ways outside of contracts through agreements, like our cooperative research and development agreement, CRDAs, to really help with those type of technologies. And that type of testing really to get us hands on with a technology, like you said, that might only have a small market, a limited use case for DHS, specifically,
Eric White: As somebody who covers the different industries that work with the government, the homeland security, you know, I don’t even know what to call the industry sometimes has seen a significant amount of growth. Is your Rolodex gotten bigger over the years? And what have you seen from the industry side that you’re seeing more players come coming to you all, or what what does it look like?
Megan Mahle: Yeah, I think I’d agree, I think there’s more interest in working with us. And I think, you know, it’s also a concerted effort on our side of explaining the missions. I mean, I think people are familiar with some of the DHS missions. But there’s so many that, you know, maybe they aren’t aware of that really are ripe for commercial solutions, and partnerships. And so I think by putting out the document, like the partnership guide, we really are trying to focus on those that full idea of what the missions and the possibilities are.
Eric White: I was going to say it doesn’t hurt that DHS’ list of areas of responsibilities keeps growing.
Megan Mahle: Exactly, it can be so overwhelming. And I think that’s sort of the point. And the opportunity here is to really help break it down and make it less, you know, monolithic and a little bit more digestible for people.
Eric White: Well, we’ve probably got some folks listening that might be interested in finding the guide, what can you tell them about, you know, if somebody owns a small business, or has an idea that they want to bring you all what’s the best route in your mind to go?
Megan Mahle: So the guide is available on our DHS Science and Technology website for download. We also encourage people and if they read the guide, they’ll see throughout the document, we really encourage people to reach out to S&T’s industry liaison, and we have an email address in the guide. That really, we’re interested in hearing from people. We want people to jump on our mailing lists and hear about upcoming opportunities that we have, especially once they get an idea for where they might fit and what opportunities they’re eligible for. I think they can keep an eye out as as those come up, but, you know, encourage people to take a look at the guide, learn about our business processes, and then reach out to our industry liaison. And we’d love to have follow up conversation about technologies that are being developed and then explain or can make connections to our program offices.
Tom Temin: Megan Mahle is the director of industry partnerships in the Homeland Security’s office of innovation and collaboration, part of the science and technology directorate.