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Sunday, June 23, 2024

Homeland’s Heroes: The 2023 National Homeland Security Today Awardees

The Homeland Security Today awards annually recognize the people who devote their lives to protecting our people, our resources, and our way of life. From heroic efforts on duty to invaluable efforts behind the scenes, annually we gather to celebrate excellence, honor, and the daily successes of those working on the front lines and in a support capacity to ensure the safety of all Americans. We are proud to honor the following 2022 award recipients.


The GTSC Homeland Security Today Person of the Year is awarded to people who serve the homeland security mission in an exemplary fashion. These individuals have directly improved, executed, and/or engaged the proper people, agencies, or departments necessary to tangibly improve the nation’s prevention, protection, mitigation, or response capacity to make America safer. 


Eric Hysen, Chief Information Officer & Chief Artificial Intelligence Officer, U.S. Department of Homeland Security

When surveilling the threat landscape, and then the people dedicated to mitigating it, Eric Hysen is at the top of everyone’s mind. His bio is filled with significant accomplishments and a meteoric rise at the Department of Homeland Security, most recently as Chief Artificial Intelligence Officer – the first of its kind – at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.  Mr. Hysen has been leading the information technology shop at DHS as Chief Information Officer since February of 2021 and fielding the most challenging time – technologically – in the Department’s history.

Artifical intelligence, quantum computing, and technologies like ChatGPT have been bubbling up for years and in November 2022 exploded onto the scene forcing government and industry to focus directly on its impacts and repercussions.  After a short few months, the Administration was able to issue numerous Executive Orders for safety and security around the use of AI in government and named Hysen to the critical emerging role as Chief AI Officer.  He is responsible for promoting AI innovation and safety across the Department and advises the Secretary and DHS leadership on AI issues and has already made a tremendous impact on guidance and guardrails around this critical development.

He does this while supporting and maintaining the digital infrastructure for the entire department and supporting the numerous components in the third largest Cabinet agency, with the most daily interaction with the public in the federal government. He continued and continues to align the Department’s Information Technology (IT) personnel resources and assets, including security, infrastructure, and delivery, to support core DHS missions.

His work will reverberate for many years and he is architecting our nation’s course for a safe and secure future in the age of AI.


Maryland Active Assailant Interdisciplinary Work Group

Ten years ago, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley created an ad hoc working group to develop a guidance document for response to active shooter incidents in the state. This led to the creation of the Active Assailant Interdisciplinary Work Group, drawing from all corners of state and local government, professional associations, and the private sector, and is co-chaired by the Maryland State Police (MSP) and the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems (MIEMSS). In 2014, the AAIWG published a guidance document that changed how law enforcement, fire, and EMS responds to such incidents.

For the last decade, Sergeant Travis Nelson (MSP) and Randy Linthicum (MIEMSS), together with the administrative support of Ms. Leesa Radja, have guided the work group in what is one of the most comprehensive and proactive security programs geared toward the general public.

After the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, then-Governor Larry Hogan issued Executive Order 01.01.2018.08 that codified the group and provided a Charter and Work Plan to implement its work objectives. The AAIWG brings a multidisciplinary approach to prevention, intervention, and response to active assailant incidents and overall public safety and emergency management planning. This collaborative effort helps to ensure the safety, security, and resiliency of Maryland’s diverse communities extending from the Eastern Shore to Western Maryland. The AAIWG emphasizes a “whole community approach” to public safety, which is defined by FEMA as “a means by which residents, emergency management practitioners, organizational and community leaders, and government officials can collectively understand and assess the needs of their respective communities and determine the best ways to organize and strengthen their assets, capabilities, and interests.”

The Charter and Work Plan are living documents that may be updated as needed to serve the overall objectives outlined in the Executive Order. Highlights of the work include:
Enhanced information-sharing and communication protocols and procedures.
Identifying, collecting, and enhancing best practices. Providing guidance on prevention, planning, training, and response to stakeholders. Consulting with stakeholders on guidance, updates, emergency plans, and procedures. The work group continues the work they started a decade ago to further the education of the public about these homeland priorities, threats, and vulnerabilities. It is a critical part of our security equation for the citizens of the State of Maryland.


Department of Public Safety Communications and Emergency Management/ Department of Technology Solutions, Arlington County Government

In a nation that champions innovation and community involvement, few local public servants stand out as distinctly as Sydney McKenna, John Paras, Hawaya Abby, and Patrick Nguyen. In the vast spectrum of homeland security, where educating the public is a vital defensive measure, this cross-departmental team, representing Arlington County Emergency Management and Arlington County Technology Services, has set an unparalleled benchmark for innovative local government cyber security services. The group developed a “Continuity of Operations during Cyber Disruptions campaign to integrate both cyber security planning and contingency of operations planning – bring two critical functions together for the first time. They moved beyond traditional one-way workplace education campaigns by involving over 400 county employees across 16 departments in interactive cyber continuity of operations tabletop discussion exercises. Their approach of in-person tabletop exercises, encompassing everyone from frontline staff to the County Board, is innovative in participative learning and grounds their work in proven emergency management practices. Such face-to-face interactions foster a sense of unity, immediacy, and shared responsibility that virtual campaigns might struggle to emulate, and result in sustainable, locally-owned solutions for every County department to continue to deliver essential services during cyber attacks.


The MVP award is given to an official or team that modernizes and improves the operations and performance of an agency, component, or division to increase capacity, speed delivery, use innovation and improve performance. These leaders also focus on the future – developing strategies and plans to address our constantly changing, dynamic threat environment. 

Bob Costello, Chief Information Officer, CISA, DHS

Today, the frequency of cyber-attacks against stakeholders in the “dot Gov” and critical infrastructure sectors have reached a level of frequency and intensity that requires CISA to unify all business and mission functions of the agency and cybersecurity community to counter our adversaries. From the SolarWinds event and the product vulnerabilities—CISA is at the center of the storm and Bob Costello as the CISA CIO is leading the fight to unify the agency’s business and mission capabilities to counter these threats. Bob is a 25-year veteran of the Federal IT community with much of his time spent leading mission critical efforts within ICE and CBP. His experience building partnerships within the Department and across the contractor community give him the technical and business acumen to solve the unification challenges within CISA that will enable the agency to meet the cybersecurity challenges of the next 10 years. His dedication to the mission of DHS, and the advancements he has made in his short time at CISA deserve the respect and recognition of the nomination board of reviewers. 


Award Patron: Acuity, Inc.

The Zero Trust Excellence Award recognizes outstanding achievements in the design, implementation, and management of Zero Trust architectures within the federal government environment. Rooted in the “never trust, always verify” philosophy, Zero Trust mandates that no individual, device, or application, regardless of its location or relation to the organization, is inherently trusted. 

James Scobey, Chief Information Security Officer, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission

Under the leadership of SEC CISO James Scobey, the Commission’s endeavor to implement Zero Trust principles showcases a proactive stance in bolstering cybersecurity, aligning with broader governmental directives to modernize cyber defense. Scobey‘s forward-thinking approach to cybersecurity embodies the “never trust, always verify” mantra central to Zero Trust. By navigating the complex journey of shifting towards a more identity- and data-centric security model, the SEC sets a commendable precedent for other federal agencies and financial entities, demonstrating the critical role of evolving cybersecurity strategies in safeguarding national financial systems and data.

Furthermore, the progress achieved under Scobey‘s leadership signifies a broader governmental transition towards contemporary cybersecurity models, which is crucial in navigating the increasing sophistication of cyber threats. The recognition of the SEC, and particularly CISO James Scobey, for its strides in Zero Trust implementation not only acknowledges the agency’s diligence but also underscores the importance of continuous cybersecurity enhancement in the federal sector, fostering a culture of excellence and adaptation that is vital in today’s rapidly evolving cyber landscape.


The MVP award is given to an official or team that modernizes and improves the operations and performance of an agency, component, or division to increase capacity, speed delivery, use innovation and improve performance.  These leaders also focus on the future – developing strategies and plans to address our constantly changing, dynamic threat environment. 

Elizabeth Puchek, Chief Data Officer, U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services

Elizabeth Puchek, Chief Data Officer for U.S. Customs and Immigration Services is using data to shape the first-ever USCIS Data Strategy and build a data-centric culture to secure one of the nation’s most critical missions: immigration. But it’s not just about the strategy – data quality and data standards are her priority which blazes the trail for the further use of automation technologies that can take efficiency, speed, and accuracy to unprecedented levels. Puchek is leading USCIS to a data driven culture that sets the organization up for long term improvement and paves the way for further use of emerging technologies like AI, machine learning, Large Language Model chat GPT and more. In just under 90 days, Beth established and chaired a cross-directorate working group to develop the strategy’s four goals, launched an agency-wide communication campaign, and completed the formal review and approval process to gain the Director’s concurrence. The strategy formed the foundation for the new organizational design for the OCDO, which is responsible for managing data assets and fostering a data-driven culture at USCIS. She oversaw the development and deployment of Streamline Case Processing solution, which over the last three quarters has saved over 500K hours in process forms. Beth is supporting the strategic plan by promoting data consumption among all of her staff by publishing enterprise-wide dashboards—the Director’s Snapshot, the Domestic Receipts Dashboard, the USCIS Strategic Performance Measures Dashboard, and the Electronic Filing Dashboard–to help facilitate leadership decisions; to launch the Data Management Council, and to complete several data sharing agreements with the Department of Labor and Department of State that improve the efficiency and effectiveness of benefit adjudications. She also has her eye on the need for her data analysts to be on the same page, so she created an Analyst Basic Training to provide a consistent baseline for the agency’s data analysts and is currently expanding this training to provide Analyst Intermediate Training for more advanced topics. Puchek’s roots in homeland extend to 8 years at U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) where she held progressively advanced roles, including Advisor to the Commissioner, Chief of Staff for Enterprise Services, and Director of Systems Engineering.

Carin Quiroga, Chief Data Officer, ICE

This past year has been an incredible year for the Office of the CDO.  Succinctly put, Carin is able to make people care about data and its use in an unprecedented way.  It is through her enthusiasm that she brings people to the table to discuss the exciting things, do the hard things, and align on the many many tasks it takes to follow through.  In this year alone she has led an IT data modernization effort, opened a data bodega, and started a data empowerment program. The IT Data Modernization project took place at the enterprise level.  It builds on ICE’s data modernization progress to date, and follows an executable roadmap towards ICE’s future as a data driven organization. As of August 2023 twelve (12) of the sixteen (16) identified priorities have moved into new phases of execution.  This program has established clear owners, captured existing efforts and dependencies, and focused on incremental progress to modernize ICE’s data and IT ecosystem.  Carin also opened the ‘Data Bodega’.  An inaugural effort of removing data silos and providing ‘one stop shopping’ for what will someday maintain a catalog of all data available throughout ICE.  Still in its infancy, this working group requires many discussions and engagement across many offices as everyone aligns on the security needs of a law enforcement agency.  Phase I is well underway with a launch date expected at the end of September.  This pilot will provide access to four (4) foundational non-sensitive datasets to better inform decision making at all levels of engagement.  Another star in Carin’s year, has been the Data Empowerment Program.  This program launched with a Data Literacy Survey in July 2023 and had a response rate of 49%.  The aim was to gather a baseline understanding of the data literacy landscape at ICE.  From the information received, the Data Empowerment Program will help employees advance their data literacy skills, thought sponsored lunch & learns, communication of various self-paced trainings available, sharing of data standards and policies, as well as related book, article, and podcast recommendations for keeping those interested up-to-date on the latest and greatest technologies and information available.

While these are just a few examples of the work being done in the CDO office.  The effort of creating measurable change to make the agency more data driven, and in turn responsive to change is evident in everything Carin does. We think big, start small – and always make forward progress.


Much of partnership requires knowledge and understanding. Communication between industry and government to achieve the best products and services requires outreach in all stages: requirements building, request for information, effective industry days, outreach through engagement and much more. The Excellence in Outreach award recognizes the agency, department, or individual that has excelled at engaging, explaining and educating to benefit the mission of securing the nation.

Stacy Irving, Senior Advisor, Homeland Security Planning, Programs and Strategic Partnerships at the Delaware Valley Intelligence Center (DVIC), Philadelphia Police Department

Ms. Stacy Irving, Senior Advisor, Homeland Security Planning, Programs and Strategic Partnerships at the Delaware Valley Intelligence Center (DVIC) is forging working partnerships between the public and private sectors is critical to fighting terrorism and crime. When an incident with terrorist implications occurs overseas or on U.S. soil it, Stacy recognizes that it is our utmost responsibility to ensure that our private sector partners have accurate and timely information regarding that event in an effort to protect critical national infrastructure. Since 2015, Ms. Irving has served as the Senior Advisor, Homeland Security Programs and Strategic Partnerships for the Delaware Valley Intelligence Center under the institutional umbrella of the Philadelphia Police Department. She has developed a wide range of successful outreach and information-sharing initiatives that open important lines of communication between the fusion center, law enforcement and the business and faith-based communities on matters of crime and terrorism.

In addition, Stacy established the Delaware Valley Regional Roundtable, a regional forum for corporate security and federal, state and local law enforcement leaders, which has emerged as a key regional network of robust dialogue and information-sharing among these two critical partners. From the outset, Stacy’s outreach efforts have been designed to take advantage of robust public/private partnerships that emphasize and rely upon the key role communities play in addressing homeland security and crime issues at both the national and local levels.

In addition to the Roundtable, Stacy has organized an ongoing series of awareness trainings and briefings to further expand the DVIC’s regional distribution network and share critical intelligence for various business sectors that include the banking community, cultural institutions, religious organizations, contract security providers, performance venues and the hotel and hospitality sector. Stacy has served as the key point of contact between the business and non-profit community and law enforcement. She is working with the private sector on a CCTV camera sharing initiative throughout the city. As the fusion center, she supports 12 counties in addition to supporting the Philadelphia Police Department. She hosts a number of meetings for various sectors to ensure the partnerships are strong and information sharing is occurring in real-time. Ms. Irving is internationally recognized for her unique ability to forge partnerships and a mutual understanding of complex crime and terrorism matters between law enforcement and the business and residential communities. Stacy has presented at conferences throughout the United States, and in the Netherlands, Scotland, United Kingdom and Canada.

She’s also worked with the PA Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and the Faith-Based ISAO to coordinate a series of faith-based webinar with the two other fusion centers in Pennsylvania in order to reach and connect law enforcement and the faith-based communities across the commonwealth. Stacy’s work supporting the private sector utilizing the Homeland Security Information Network has been highlighted by DHS and HSIN, most recently in the July/August 2023 edition.

The DVIC also has a HSIN room for Law Enforcement. And Stacy was recently recognized by the Philadelphia Police Department for sharing information regarding a dangerous suspect wanted for crimes in two states that was shared by a hotelier, as a result of building trusted relationships between the public and private sector. As a result, Stacy’s quick response in notifying both Philadelphia Police and the private sector, an investigation was undertaken, and the suspect was apprehended without incident. The commendation read- The notification of this criminal activity to you was a result of your tireless efforts of building collaborated trusted relationship between the Philadelphia Police Department and a multitude of private sector partners throughout Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley Region.

Ms. Irving is an acknowledged Crime Prevention Leader and Partnership Strategist with a successful record of accomplishments developing tools and solutions for the private and public sectors in Philadelphia for more than forty-five years.


People around the nation are working to find creative and engaging ways to help the public understand and prepare for any eventuality. Educating the public about homeland priorities, threats, and vulnerabilities is a critical part of the security equation. The Most Innovative Campaign to Improve Security recognizes a federal, state, local, or private-sector campaign that has increased awareness and preparedness for a threat that requires the partnerships to mitigate and prevent physical or cyber attack, disaster preparedness, human trafficking, infrastructure protection, supply-chain security or any threat to the country.

Heather Fischer, Senior Advisor for Human Rights Crimes, Thomson Reuters

Minal Patel Davis, Director, Mayor’s Office of Human Trafficking and Domestic Violence, Houston

What is needed to combat the realities of human trafficking is increased collaboration among municipal governments, civil society, the private sector, and community members. To this end, Thomson Reuters proudly took stewardship of the City of Houston’s world-class anti-trafficking toolkits to make them readily accessible online to cities and other public authorities. Through these step-by-step guides, municipal authorities can quickly mobilize anti-trafficking campaigns which may otherwise take years of planning, saving cities and towns money and other public resources.

Public awareness campaigns play a critical role in tackling human trafficking, and the City of Houston’s campaigns are recognized as models of best practice in this area. Under the leadership of Mayor Sylvester Turner, the Mayor’s Office of Human Trafficking and Domestic Violence documented its approach to creating anti-trafficking campaigns. Through these insights they developed a suite of tools and resources for local, national, and international organizations and agencies to launch anti-trafficking responses that can be readily contextualized to any community.

The new Thomson Reuters global Human Trafficking Resource Center will house the toolkits online at the Thomson Reuters Institute site, with a commitment to keeping the materials up to date and making additional resources available. There are a total of nine toolkits, and the first available on the resource center include:

  • Large-scale public events toolkit — Large-scale sporting events are typically pivotable moments for trafficking due to the influx of visitors and temporary workers. The topics of the tools range from how to vet volunteers, to how to engage vendors including restaurants and transport companies to help spot victims.
  • Watch for Traffick media campaign toolkit — Public awareness and education is key in helping to spot trafficking. These tools include guidance on how authorities can raise awareness about human trafficking through ready-made advertising for television, radio, billboards, and ads on buses and taxis.
  • Anti-luring social media awareness campaign toolkit —This toolkit has 24 plug-and-play social media posts targeted to youths ages 13 to 22 and caregivers ages 35 to 55.

These toolkits are the foundation for enabling a network of cities to run anti-trafficking campaigns, driving a year-round response to help meet the challenges that trafficking poses. 


Federal Small Business Champion of the Year is awarded annually to a federal official who shows a distinct commitment and tangible results toward improving the environment and success for small businesses in the federal homeland and national security market.

Jaime Gracia, Director, Strategic Enterprise Programs, U.S. Department of State

While the federal government has worked on policies and opportunities to include small businesses across their enterprise, outreach, market research, there are still barriers to new, innovative small businesses pursuing opportunities with the federal government.  Enter Jaime Gracia – an innovator, stalwart, and bright light in the development of robust and vital federal markets. As a procurement executive and subject matter expert with 20+ years of progressive experience providing vision, leadership and direction for the delivery of innovative, cutting-edge acquisitions, training, projects and programs for public and private sector clients, he has now taken on strategy and outreach for the U.S. State Department.  His efforts are moving forward to push innovation, diversity, and cutting edge ideas to support the missions of State.


The Citizen of Mission award goes to an individual who devotes their personal time, energy, and resources to work for causes related to homeland security. Volunteers, nonprofit leaders, corporate employees — anyone is eligible for nomination as long as they devote time and dedicated effort to supporting the homeland mission.

Carol Adams, MPM, CEM, MEP, CBCP, Senior Systems Analyst, Disaster Recovery/Business Continuity Coordinator, Management Information Systems, Alleghany County Sanitary Authority

Carol Adams works in critical infrastructure as her day-job, but lives it as her passion beyond her responsibilities. Our Citizen of mission is awarded to someone who devotes volunteer time and energy to keep the country safe, and Carol is a busy, busy bee doing just that. She is a Senior Systems Analyst and Disaster Recovery/Business Continuity Coordinator for Allegheny County Sanitary Authority (ALCOSAN) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and leverages this position to share information and work tirelessly to protect our nation’s critical infrastructure.

One of her labors of love includes volunteer leadership for ALCOSAN to work collaboratively with Federal, State, and Local Partners, with an emphasis on Critical Infrastructure and Homeland Security stratagems. Annually she is the force behind one of the most important meetings regarding critical infrastructure on the east coast: The Security & Rick Management Symposium. Carol has organized and grown the event to over 600 participants and nurtured an incredibly important touchpoint for critical infrastructure owners.  She remains focused on our nation’s critical infrastructure protection through Homeland Security and Emergency Management initiatives while serving on various executive boards, work groups, and think tanks. She has spoken at numerous conferences, workshops, seminars, and forums throughout the United States. Carol has designed and participated in many federal-level exercises to evaluate the continuity of government (COG/COOP), emergency operations protocols, and organizational resilience. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree from Carlow College (University) and a Master of Public Management (MPM) degree from Carnegie Mellon University. Carol is a graduate of the FBI Citizens Academy (2008) and has served on numerous boards.  All as a volunteer.
Carol is the 2017 recipient of the American Red Cross Lifetime Commitment to the Red Cross Award. In 2018, she received the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation Walk of Honor Award from the Pennsylvania Association of Hazardous Materials Technicians. And this year, HSToday’s Citizen of Mission. Carol has served the region for 36 years as a career professional with ALCOSAN.


The Acquisition Excellence awards recognize a division, agency or effort that has improved the speed, efficiency, and effectiveness of the acquisition of technology, products or services that support the frontline missions of homeland security. Projects must demonstrate tangible benefits and improved efficiency in the acquisition process.

Pamela Elliott, Contracting Officer’s Representative (COR), CISA’s Cybersecurity Shared Services Office (CSSO)

​Pamela Elliott, the Contracting Officer’s Representative (COR) for CISA’s Cybersecurity Shared Services Office (CSSO), exemplifies the need for and impact of effective contract management to enable mission critical services. Through Pam’s 13 years of experience leading 6 contracts across 4  CSSO services, she has demonstrated her commitment to customer service and proactive hands-on approach when responding to both planned and unexpected requests given to CSSO. Pam is focused on planning ahead to enable and support the quick turnaround requests of the government and CISA leadership. She organizes proactive end of year funding conversations, kick starts next option year planning, and facilitates potential government work stoppage planning meetings. This type of planning and coordination allows programs to focus on delivering high impact services and tools to CISA’s diverse customer group. Most recently in January 2023’s FY23 Omnibus Spending Bill, the federal government provided a $15 million increase to CISA’s budget to develop a critical infrastructure cybersecurity shared services pilot program. CISA turned to the Protective Domain Name System (DNS) Resolver Service Team, one of the many services that Pam oversees, to execute this mission critical request in a prompt manner. To quickly enable the service management team to begin work on the pilot program, Pam and her team drove the preparation needed to execute a contract modification, sought creative alternatives to award, and escalated to CSSO leadership when bottlenecks arose. Throughout this process, Pam was hyper-focused on unlocking the value of the Protective DNS resolver service and making the capabilities built by CISA accessible to underserved customer groups as quickly as possible. Pam met the flexibility and speed needed to modify the Protective DNS contract,  while managing all other CSSO services and associated changes and requirements. In addition, her support to other mission critical shared services has been invaluable.  She has developed and executed rapidly scalable acquisition processes to ensure Vulnerability Disclosure and Bug Bounty service response efforts keep pace with the evolving nature of cyber threats.  Within 36 hours, Pam facilitated a contract modification to establish a specialized Bug Bounty event for the Log4J vulnerability, a critical vulnerability that persisted in widely used open-source logging library.  This response allowed the Department of Homeland Security to quickly identify and respond to previously unknown instances of the vulnerability within their environment.  She’s also liaised with agencies to establish and provide four separate bug bounty events with Federal agencies authorizing over $500,000 in vulnerability bounty payouts to public researchers across the globe.  Her contracting support efforts have directly contributed to CISA’s ability to identify over 1,900 vulnerabilities in Federal network systems. Her close partnership and desire to stand in the arena with mission product and service owners has demonstrated the power, flexibility, and speed at which federal acquisition can perform to support the security of our Nation.  Without her efforts, CISA’s cybersecurity shared service programs would have experienced far fewer accomplishments and much less impact to CISA stakeholders.


Often the “back-end” side of the mission is the most neglected, and yet often the most important. Recipients of the Backbone award have accomplished extraordinary feats to ensure that the support functions of an agency maximize efficiency, support mission and account for new advancements and technology.

Alberto Flores, Porte Director, Laredo, CBP

Mr. Alberto Flores has been serving as the Port Director of Laredo for the past three years, since he replaced the previous director, Eugene Crawford. Between 2018-2020, Flores served as Acting Port Director for the Laredo Port of Entry. Mr. Flores has expressed a bright vision for the Port of Laredo: “As we begin to navigate the future, I look forward to working together with both long established and new partners to ensure we do as much as we can to utilize the latest technology and innovation to facilitate lawful trade and travel while keeping an ever-watchful eye on our border security mission.” Mr. Flores’ duties include managing 1,225 employees, the four international bridges, the international airport, the rail crossing facility as well as managing the immigration hearing facility.According to the CBP, Mr. Flores is responsible for processing approximately 17 million travelers and over $139 billion in trade each year.While serving as Port Director for Laredo, Mr. Flores has successfully navigated several extremely challenging circumstances including a pandemic, the closure of borders for non-essential activities for more than a year, and the most difficult immigration crisis.  Throughout all these crises he has ensured that international trade continues and that this land port continues to be number 1 in the nation, where 60% of all international trade with Mexico crosses through this district. Mr. Flores has worked hand in hand with federal and local authorities from Mexico to maintain the fragile balance of having a secure border and ensuring that legitimate international trade continues; his conduct in supporting international trade is commendable.

Kristen Himes, Lead, Center of Excellence Service Governance, Cybersecurity Division, CISA

Kristen Himes, CISA’s Cybersecurity Division Center of Excellence Service Governance Lead, is nominated for the Backbone Award in recognition of her exceptional contributions to modernizing and improving the operations and performance of CISA Cybersecurity Shared Services Office (CSSO). Kristen has consistently demonstrated her commitment to increasing support capacity, accelerating delivery, promoting innovation, and improving overall performance by dedicating her efforts to standardizing service operations and management across the agency. Recognizing the need for a centralized tool to enable streamlined operations and improve transparency across services and workflows, last year Kristen embarked on creating a comprehensive solution. Starting with Protective DNS, a cornerstone CISA-provided service, she meticulously analyzed the operational requirements, identified common pain points across service stakeholders, and designed a tool that now addresses these challenges effectively and enables stronger collaboration within and outside of CISA. The service operations management tool developed by Kristen empowers the Protective DNS team to effortlessly oversee all aspects of their day-to-day operations. To date, almost 10 service functions are in use to enable teams to track customer demands and change requests; manage incidents and change requests; and streamline onboarding and knowledge management. The tool enables real-time visibility into Protective DNS service operations and frees up the Protective DNS team to focus on accelerating customer adoption and service expansion. The most exciting aspect of Kristen’s creation is its scalability and potential for future use. The tool has been designed with a flexible framework that allows it to be easily adapted and applied to other services across CISA. Its modular architecture and configurable features empower teams to leverage the tool while introducing configuration to align to their specific service offerings and requirements. By developing and now scaling this service operations management tool, Kristen has paved the way for future CISA advancements. The tool has immense potential for widespread adoption for various CISA services, as it provides a standardized, efficient, and transparent approach to managing service operations and diverse customer groups. Kristen is dedicated to innovation, focused on delivery excellence, and committed to delivering high impact, innovative solutions to enable CISA to deliver mission-oriented services.

Maggie Larkin, Lead Project Manager, Global Program, USCIS

Maggie Larkin, Lead Product Manager, Global Program, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), is this year’s Backbone Awardee due to her exceptional contribution to enhancing the delivery of software solutions aimed at improving the throughput, accuracy, and quality of Refugee and Asylum Cases. Maggie has demonstrated a profound commitment to utilizing Lean Startup Methodologies and a Metrics-based, value-driven approach, leading to transformative results. Maggie is instrumental in enabling the use of Lean Startup methodologies within USCIS, bringing a revolutionary approach to software development and value delivery. By embracing principles such as iterative development, rapid experimentation, and validated learning, Maggie has fostered a true culture of innovation and human-centered design, ensuring that USCIS stays agile and responsive to the evolving challenges in the timely intake, processing, and adjudication of refugee and asylum cases. Building on that success, she has led the effort to define and operationalize a metrics-driven approach that centers on measurable outcomes, ensuring that every software development effort aligns with USCIS’s mission to enhance the throughput, accuracy, and quality of refugee and asylum cases. Her approach to aligning her teams on mission-related objectives and clearly defined measurable key results has significantly improved collaboration, transparency, and decision-making between engineering teams, the business, and organization leadership. Maggie has not only implemented and championed these methodologies but has also been an inspiring leader, promoting these concepts and practices throughout USCIS. Her collaborative and inclusive leadership style has motivated cross-functional teams, fostering a culture of innovation, excellence, and collaboration. Her work has enabled the Global program to swiftly respond to emerging challenges and better serve those officers on the front line of the refugee and asylum crisis, in not only saved time but also in positively impacting the lives of countless individuals seeking refuge and asylum. Her work represents an outstanding example of public service excellence and enables USCIS to uphold America’s promise as a nation of welcome and possibility with fairness, integrity, and respect for all they serve.

Glenn Podonsky, Deputy Under Secretary, Science & Technology Directorate, Department of Homeland Security

Recently, Mr. Glenn S. Podonsky took on the role of Deputy Under Secretary for Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science & Technology (S&T). He was selected to serve in this role by the Under Secretary.  His main focus was to unify all of the S&T divisions.  Up to this point, each division was stove piped and focused on accomplishing their own singular mission.  He brought in the leads of each of these divisions, had them explain what they believed their mission was and ensured that it was in line with the overall mission of S&T. The overarching mission of DHS S&T was to enable effective, efficient, and secure operations across all homeland security missions by applying scientific, engineering, analytic, and innovative approaches to deliver timely solutions and support departmental acquisitions.  Additionally, during this time as Deputy Under Secretary, Mr. Podonsky established a bridge between the Department of Energy (DOE) Labs and DHS S&T.  He took advantage of his long history at DOE.  This led to DHS S&T being a strategic advisor for the DOE Labs, allowing them take advantage of the department’s expertise allowing new innovations.  Prior to this role, Mr. Podonsky was asked by the Senior Official performing the duties of the Under Secretary for Science and Technology (S&T) to serve as the Executive Director of Enterprise Services (OES). He is responsible for overseeing the delivery of effective and innovative methods, business processes and solutions to the critical management needs of the functions and offices of the S&T Directorate. His office developed, maintained, and leveraged relationships across the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the General Services Administration (GSA), and Congress among others to support the customer needs within S&T. Within OES, Mr. Podonsky provided direct oversight of Contract Acquisition Program Support (CAPS), Administration & Support (ASD), Chief Information Office (CIO), Communications and Outreach (COD), Compliance (CAPO), Executive Secretariat (Exec Sec) and Finance & Budget (FBD). In this role, Mr. Podonsky worked extensively with domestic and international partners to transform the Science Advice and Guidance for Emergencies (SAGE) program from a concept at S&T into the premier emergency management program for the Directorate. Mr. Podonsky has continually pursued partnerships with key stakeholders in the emergency management field to enhance awareness and application of science advice into emergency management. The continual exposure of SAGE by Mr. Podonsky to international agencies, federal agencies, and state and local agencies has established SAGE as the epicenter of science advice for emergency management throughout the United States government. The vision that Mr. Podonsky has maintained for SAGE since its inception has been a guiding light for the program’s success. Because of SAGE, the Department is better positioned to respond to diverse emergencies in the ever-changing world. Due to the success of SAGE at DHS S&T, international partners are actively seeking guidance regarding how to establish a framework of science advice for emergency management within their own governments. Most recently, S&T SAGE has assisted Canadian emergency management partners in establishing a Concept of Operations for leveraging science advice for emergencies to their federal response plan. Led by Mr. Podonsky, the S&T SAGE team was able to facilitate relationships with numerous Canadian emergency management agencies to display how SAGE bridges the gap between science advice and emergency response. Looking forward, SAGE will continue the pursuit of awareness while also improving how DHS incorporates science advice for emergencies.


Homeland’s Human Firewall is a new award to recognize the tireless efforts and achievements of those keeping our cyber infrastructure protected.

Daniel Daly, Deputy Director, Information Assurance Division, TSA


Daniel Daly serves as the Deputy Director for TSA’s Information Assurance Division (IAD).  He’s a former US Marine Officer who brings to TSA a wealth of experience in cybersecurity along with exemplary leadership skills which is evident in his daily interactions with over 55 government personnel and more than a hundred contractor support partners.  Mr. Daly is responsible for a myriad of activities while serving as Acting Director of IAD and the Deputy Chief Information Security Officer.  He has been instrumental in leading TSA’s Security Operations Center in achieving two consecutive designations by the Department of Homeland Security as a Cybersecurity Service Provider and Center of Excellence. He is a vital part of the Chief Information Security Officer’s leadership team ensuring the SOC is responsive to an evolving threat landscape where TSA faces over a billion security events on a monthly basis. Mr. Daly is a consummate representative of the Chief Information Officer’s office, ushering in new cybersecurity initiatives to support the TSA’s core mission to protect the nation’s systems to ensure freedom of movement for people and commerce.  He serves as an excellent mentor to IAD leaders at varying levels, consistently leading by example and raising the bar for his peers.  Mr. Daly provided subject matter expertise in the co-creation of the most recent TSA cybersecurity roadmap, integrating the TSA Enterprise cybersecurity key objectives for the next few years. He is also responsible for leading the TSA Zero Trust program; Mr. Daly established an integrated project team to comply with Executive Order 14028 and OMB 22-09. He has been the driving force to obtain additional funding in support of Zero Trust and the development of an effective strategic approach.  Mr. Daly is an excellent partner, evident through his strong support of other program offices within TSA; for example, he provided critical input in the authoring of the most recent Security Directives for TSA’s industry partners. He also led his team to develop a new threat hunting activity which complimented the threat intelligence program under his Focus Operations Branch.  Mr. Daly has also led a very effective team cyber engineers which are responsible for executing penetration testing against the agency authorized systems.  The results of these tests have been extremely beneficial to TSA, identifying security deficiencies for remediation before an adversary could potentially exploit them.  The culmination of all Mr. Daly’s efforts has had a positive and significant impact on TSA’s overarching security posture and the prevention serious harm to the TSA Enterprise and the core mission objectives of TSA to support the traveling public.  The Office of Information Technology has been faced with a major challenge with its DEVSECOPS activities; routinely facing self-imposed stumbling blocks associated with the lack of established processes and coordination between the multiple teams within DEVSECOPS. This resulted in a backlog of applications and severely impacted the agile methodology for software development as required by the Chief Information Officer.  Mr. Daly took up the challenge of addressing this critical mission area to untangle and promote a more coordinated approach to developing and authorizing applications in support of program offices across TSA. He first initiated an integrated project team to address each of the groups specific activities, processes, and objectives. One of his major goals was to align the Risk Management Framework (RMF) with the principles of an agile methodology, as RMF is a mandatory requirement for the Information Assurance Division under the Federal Information Security Management Act.  Mr. Daly’s leadership was a key factor in bringing together key stakeholders to develop an end to end process which included the equities of all stakeholders. This new process was approved by the TSA Chief Information Security Officer.  However, it would require some additional actions to add the “Speed to Delivery” as subsequently identified by TSA’s new CIO. Once again, Mr. Daly was quick to accept the challenge of improving speed in which applications are delivered to the production environment.  He leveraged multiple teams to develop a 30-60-90-Day plan to ensure the development activities no longer faces a minimum nine-month duration period from “development to production” delivery timeframe.  The teams analyzed current practices, processes, and mandatory security policies and federal guidance to streamline the Risk Management Framework activities.  Through Mr. Daly’s keen understanding of both the application development requirements and the RMF requirements, he was able to lead the team towards the development of a new plan that satisfies the Chief Information Officer’s requirement to deliver applications at an expedited pace to better support program offices across TSA.  The results of his leadership culminated into receiving executive approval.

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Homeland Security Today
The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.
Homeland Security Today
Homeland Security Todayhttp://www.hstoday.us
The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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