This article originally appeared in Fifth Domain, September 26, 2017.
By: Chris Cummiskey
It isn’t often that the words innovation and government find their way into the same sentence. When they do, it is often to decry the lack of innovation in government practices. Silicon Valley and other corporate leaders have long lamented that the federal government just doesn’t seem to understand what it takes to bring innovation to government programs.
One office in the federal government is having an outsized, positive impact on bringing private sector innovation to government cybersecurity problem solving. The Cybersecurity Division (CSD) of the Science & Technology Directorate at the Department of Homeland Security has figured out how to crack the code in swiftly delivering cutting edge cyber technologies to the operators in the field. Some of these programs include: cybersecurity for law enforcement, identity management, mobile security and network system security.
The mission of CSD is to develop and deliver new technologies and to defend and secure existing and future systems and networks. With the ongoing assault on federal networks from nation-states and criminal syndicates, the mission of CSD is more important than ever.
CSD has figured out how to build a successful, actionable strategy that produces real results for DHS components. Their paradigm for delivering innovative cyber solutions includes key areas such as a streamlined process for R&D execution and technology transition, international engagement and the Silicon Valley Innovation Program (SVIP).
R&D Execution and Technology Transition
One of the greatest impediments to taking innovative ideas and putting them into action is the federal acquisition process. As a former chief acquisition officer at DHS, I certainly understand why there needs to be federal acquisition regulations. The challenge is these regulations can be used to stifle the government’s ability to drive innovation. I am encouraged by the efforts to overcome these obstacles by federal acquisition executives like DHS Chief Procurement Officer Soraya Correa – who is leading the fight to overcome these hurdles.
Under the leadership of Dr. Doug Maughan, CSD has created a process with the help of procurement executives that swiftly establishes cyber capabilities and requirements with input from the actual users. They have designed a program that accelerates the acquisition process to seed companies to work on discreet cyber problems. The CSD R&D Execution Model has been utilized since 2004 to successfully transition over 40 cyber products with the help of private sector companies. The model sets up a continuous process that starts with workshops and a pre-solicitation dialogue and ends with concrete technologies and products that can be utilized by the operators in the various DHS components. To date the program has generated cyber technologies in forensics, mobile device security, malware analysis and hardware enabled zero-day protections and many others.
Maughan often states that cybersecurity is a global sport. As such, many of the challenges that face the United States are often encountered first by other countries. Maughan and his team have worked diligently to leverage international funding for R&D and investment. CSD is regularly featured at global cyber gatherings and conferences on subjects ranging from international cyber standard setting to sharing R&D requirements for the global entrepreneur and innovation communities.
Silicon Valley Innovation Project (SVIP)
It seems like the federal government has been trying to get a foothold in Silicon Valley for decades. Every president and many of their cabinet secretaries in recent memory have professed a desire to harness the power of innovation that emanates from this West Coast enclave. One of the knocks on the federal government is that it just doesn’t move fast enough to keep pace with the innovation community. Maughan and the folks at CSD recognize these historic impediments and have moved deftly to build a Silicon Valley Innovation Project (SVIP) that is delivering real results. To help solve the hardest cyber problems facing DHS components like the Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection, the United States Secret Service and the Transportation Safety Administration, SVIP is working with Silicon Valley leaders to educate, fund and test in key cyber areas. The program is currently focusing on K9 wearables, big data, financial cybersecurity technology, drones and identity. The SVIP has developed an agile funding model that awards up to $800,000 for a span of up to 24 months. While traditional procurement processes can take months, the SVIP engages in a rolling application process where companies are invited to pitch their cyber solutions with award decisions usually made the same day. The benefits of this approach include: speed to market, extensive partnering and mentoring opportunities for the companies and market validation.
Moving innovative cyber solutions from the private sector to the federal government will always be a challenge. The speed of innovation and technological advancement confounds federal budget and acquisition processes. What Maughan and CSD have proven is that with the right approach these systems can complement one another. This is a huge service to the men and women in homeland and cybersecurity that wake up every day to protect our country from an ever-increasing stream of threats.
Chris Cummiskey is a former acting under secretary/deputy under secretary for management and chief acquisition officer at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.