Here’s how to help DHS embrace agile development

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The Department of Homeland Security’s new contract vehicle dedicated to agile development aims to revitalize a number of key IT projects across the agency, but that doesn’t mean everything will be fixed all at once. 

“We’re not trying to solve all of DHS’s problems with one contract,” said DHS CIO Luke McCormack at an industry day held Wednesday in Washington, D.C. 

McCormack was among a number of DHS leaders who spoke during an event highlighting the department’s Flexible Agile Support for the Homeland, or FLASH, contract, which embraces a number of concepts promoted by the Digital Services Playbook, including iterative development cycles, user-centered design and DevOps practices. 

Eric Hysen, director of DHS Digital Services, said vendors who want to participate not only need to “check off all of the boxes” on the agile playbook, but understand why the process needs to be instilled in the agency. 

Contract award winners need to be “able to partner with [DHS] and take a broadly-scoped set of problems and turn that into a minimal viable product and get to delivery fairly quickly,” he said. 

The awards will be a mix of work inside existing code bases to upgrade legacy systems and new projects. 

The first task order will be dedicated to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, the post 9/11 database designed to allow ICE to keep track of foreigners in the country on a student or exchange visa — and make sure they are attending the school they should be. 

Another award will focus on U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Automated Commercial Environment, which electronically facilitates import and export paperwork requirements. The current ACE system currently processes 2.5 million transactions every day.

Other work will be focused on systems inside U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Transportation Security Administration. 

Hysen said the work will be on both internal systems and public-facing mission applications, with user-centered design and the ability to maintain systems being crucial. 

“We are hoping to find folks that participate in full design lifecycle,” he said. “As we are seeing with more major programs that are moving to public cloud, the same people are writing the code are able to get it into production and be on call to be responsible well after its been accepted.” 

DHS has been relying on its EAGLE II vehicle to integrate agile development into the agency in the past. But Chief Procurement Office Soraya Correa said the agency wants to use FLASH as “another tool in the toolbox” and will be leaning on the agency’s Procurement Innovation Lab to streamline “how we pay invoice, close out contracts, evaluate proposals” under the new contract. 

Proposals are due by July 25, with awards expected to be issued September 7. 

McCormack stressed that even with the short timeline, things could change as DHS figures how to best leverage agile for its various needs. 

“We don’t have all the answers,” he said. “We are learning how to do this ourselves. Realize when you come into our house, we are learning how to do this from an ecosystem standpoint, from a culture standpoint.” 

“You’re at the vanguard here, you’re at the beginning of this process,” McCormack added. “This is not a mature process, you are going to help us mature it.”

Contact Greg via email at greg.otto@fedscoop.com, or follow him on Twitter at @gregotto. His OTR and PGP info can be found hereSubscribe to the Daily Scoop for stories like this in your inbox every morning by signing up here: fdscp.com/sign-me-on.

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agile, Departments, Homeland Security Department, ICE, Luke McCormack, Procurement
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