DHS hopes private sector STEM pilot blossoms

As the nation’s students head back to school this September, a group of Homeland Security Department employees will also be embarking on an education — in the private sector.

DHS  announced the launch of its Exemplar industry pilot program, which will place a small group of Homeland Security employees with qualified companies, as a way to share information and strengthen collaboration between the public and private sectors.

“I think it creates a new opportunity from which we will learn, but also through this pilot strengthen our people, give them new opportunities and … also provide support to the private sector, connecting the right people for the right opportunity,” said DHS Undersecretary for Management Russell Deyo, during the pilot’s June 27 kickoff in Ballston, Virginia. “We all mutually benefit.”

The program is open to GS-11 to GS-15 employees who work within the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields at the National Protection and Programs Directorate and the Science and Technology Directorate.

Ten spots are open, with a detail time of six months.

 “After we’re able to prove the value of this program, we’ll be able to expand it to more employees from those specific components but also DHS-wide,” said Exemplar Program Manager Karinda Washington. “We’re hoping that this program will be around awhile and that you can apply for the next cadre.”

Washington said the plan is to have employees out in the field by the end of August or early September.

The pilot participants remain DHS employees on detail, Washington said, which means they will continue to receive their salary and benefits. There is no additional cost and no money exchanged between the company and employee.

She also said that it was important not to shrink an office’s already small staff, which is why they built in flexibility to the pilot, so that an employee can be full, part or intermittent time.

Washington said the goal of the pilot program is not to lose civil servants to the private sector, but to build an information base. Employees who are detailed under the pilot program must return to DHS and serve three times the amount of time they were away.

“We want you to be able to share that expertise with your peers, with the leadership,” Washington said. “There will be weekly reporting requirements and final reports, so that we don’t just have this knowledge go out the door, [so] that institutional knowledge can be created. So you must come back, but we welcome you back.”

Sticking around

The program has two tracks for each of the six training opportunities, one for operations and one for management.

The six training opportunities are:

  • Cybersecurity.
  • Engineering.
  • Multi-hazard mitigation and infrastructure investment.
  • Physical and cybersecurity integration.
  • Research & development.
  • Scientific research.

DHS provided descriptions for each of the opportunities, as well as objectives for the management and operations tracks.

For example, the management objectives for the multi-hazard mitigation and infrastructure investment opportunity include “[understanding] the company’s strategy to incorporate emerging technologies across multiple fields such as civil, environmental, transportation and water resources engineering; information technology and communications; economic and financial analysis; etc.”

The operations objectives for that opportunity include understanding “the procedures used to estimate exposure to natural hazards based on historical information and how this information is integrated into building codes, rehabilitation projects, and infrastructure development.”

DHS purposefully left the industry side of the pilot program vague, so that the companies who apply to participate can drive the employee’s education.

Washington said DHS would love for employees “to get access to the same types of training you would give your employees, especially in areas of cybersecurity and things of that nature.”

“We also want to be open and not constrict you,” Washington said. “We didn’t want to plant ideas into your minds of what a training should look like. We want you to offer that to us, and then we can make that decision.”

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