A panel of industry and academic trade organizations told the House Homeland Security Committee Tuesday that the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate has made some strides in research and development outreach, but it needs to do more.
Testifying before the Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Security Technologies, witnesses urged the directorate to be more proactive and collaborative with industry and researchers.
Marc Pearl, president and CEO of the nonprofit Homeland Security and Defense Business Council, said the directorate needs to further stoke industry desire, in part by refining the way it funds research or procures new technology.
“Because of budget cuts, S&T has asked private security companies to spend [their] own resources on research and development, and then says, ‘Maybe we’ll consider buying it,'” Pearl said. DHS “should learn more about industry R&D and have better industry engagement on the APEX programs [an initiative to apply cutting-edge technology to the department’s operational needs], sharing tactical business plans.”
Samuel Aronson, the president of the American Physical Society, said DHS suffers “from a lack of transparency and culture that does not seek input from the nation’s scientific community.” He believes the department should harness the power of its advisory committees similar to how the Energy and Defense departments interact with academia and industry to accomplish its mission goals.
“The DHS advisory committee is small with a fairly narrow base, and it meets infrequently in closed sessions and doesn’t make its recommendations accessible to interested parties,” Aronson told the subcommittee. “By letting the committee operate in such fashion, I think DHS is missing an opportunity to achieve its own missions.”
At the same time, witnesses lauded Reginald Brothers, the DHS undersecretary for science and technology, for recently establishing a five-year plan to create an industrial base for the department. Pearl called the plan “the best one ever put forward.”
The plan focuses on creating a “homeland industrial base,” a concept similar to the “defense industrial base,” in which companies and academia support the technological advances needed for the military to stay at the forefront of innovation.
“To be a 21st-century R&D organization, we must tap innovation engines in the venture capital world, Silicon Valley, and universities,” Brothers wrote in the five-year plan. “The more vehicles there are to work with those performers, the more effectively and efficiently S&T can develop security solutions.”
Subcommittee Chairman John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, said the DHS industrial base shouldn’t mirror the DOD base, and DHS should do more to harness the technology coming out of small and medium-sized businesses.
“There needs to be greater focus on meeting the needs of DHS,” Ratcliffe said. “The DOD defense industrial base model cannot be applied to DHS — they are vastly different agencies on vastly different scales. We need to ensure we are addressing the needs of DHS.”
Aronson said the base should focus on evolving threats instead of trying to procure innovative technology that can be used in current operations.
“I understand the need to put the right tools in the hands of first responders, but there has to be more look-ahead at evolving threats and more emphasis on technologies that are in the pipeline that I don’t think industry can afford to drive,” Aronson said.
The five-year plan, released in April, has had very little time to be put into motion. Pearl said as long as S&T acts on the guidelines, everyone involved will see the hoped for results.
“What has to come is that the policy has to turn into a reality,” Pearl said. “That’s what we are all looking for.”