DHS aims for more robust return on research investment
By DAVID W. MUNNS, Associate Editor
The collusion of government and industry taking
place today in the Department of Homeland
Security (DHS) Science and Technology directorate is one President Dwight D. Eisenhower may not
have expected in his 1961 farewell address.
During World War II, government and industry had
become dependent on one another — forming, along with
the nation’s armed forces, what Eisenhower famously
dubbed the “military-industrial complex” — and he cautioned the public that the economic interests of the American industrial base must not dictate government action.
But a modern world has bred a modern government,
and it seems the tables have turned. The nascent DHS
Science and Technology directorate is making “return
on investment” a government claim.
Now equipped with some of the brightest minds
and talent in scientific research, DHS — the newest
federal department — is following industry best practices when it comes to technology development. The
directorate intends to institute a new arrangement,
called a technology transition agreement (TTA), by the
end of the year that will act as a gateway for government research and development.
DHS hopes to have all government customers sign a TTA to initiate
their scientific research, but does not
foresee TTA signatures as requisite to
initiate research. Though not binding, the TTA essentially means government customers will have a “good
faith agreement” with Jay M. Cohen,
DHS Science and Technology undersecretary, that the technology they
request to be developed will be salable if successfully produced.
“What we want to get away from
is technologists doing technology
because they like technology,” said
Richard Kikla, deputy director for
transition for DHS’ Science and
Cohen brought the TTA framework with him from his
prior post as head of the Office of Naval Research (ONR).
As part of that framework, the undersecretary has
formed 11 integrated product teams — border security, cargo security, chemical and biological defense,
cyber security, explosives prevention, incident management, information sharing, infrastructure protection, interoperability, maritime security and people
screening — to serve as “customers” for the directorate’s research and ensure that all parts of DHS are
collaborating to solve technology challenges.
As a new organization, connecting the DHS Science
and Technology directorate’s divisions with a customer
from the onset of research is an easier sell than it might
have been in his previous post, because DHS has nonfederal customers.
By being better able to institute “performance, cost
and schedule,” Kikla said, the directorate is laying the
foundation for a new government business model.
“The TTA is the real instrument,” he said. “If you
can fill out a TTA, then what, when, how and why will
be in place before anything begins.”
Taking a page from industry, the Department of Homeland
Security’s Science and Technology directorate wants technologies developed with specific uses in mind.
■ Government customers will sign a Technology Transition
Agreement (TTA) stating that the technology they want developed will be salable if successfully produced.
■ Scientists will be confident the technology they are invested in
will be used.
■ The TTA will make customers evaluate whether their ideas for
innovation have a high enough priority to initiate research.