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Wednesday, March 29, 2023

DHS S&T Looking for Partners to Develop Innovative Solutions to Confront Accelerating Homeland Security Threats

“There are lots of problems but the solutions are there, too – we just have to surface them," Chief Scientist Sam Howerton said at GTSC's S&T Day.

The Department of Homeland Security is engaging with private-sector partners to develop and bring cutting-edge solutions into day-to-day operations to confront continually evolving challenges and dangers to the nation.

“The threat cycle is accelerating – it’s becoming more complex,” DHS Science & Technology Directorate Chief Scientist Sam Howerton said in the opening keynote address at the Government Technology and Services Coalition’s recent S&T Day. “We have to get ahead of that.”

Areas S&T is working on, Howerton said, include identification and detection measures to counter smuggling of synthetic opioids, getting a digital fingerprint of bad actors on the internet, investing more in the application of artificial intelligence to forensics, countering risks posed by do-it-yourself synthetic biology, and detecting unmanned aerial systems in areas where they’re supposed to be off-limits.

S&T also works with its counterparts in DHS’ Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) to get a comprehensive picture of cyber threats and understand the adversarial mindset in order to better address vulnerabilities.

“It always starts with information,” Howerton said. “We don’t know what we don’t know.”

DHS S&T’s Office of Industry Partnerships focuses on leveraging industry expertise through unique programs and tools, developing technologies for homeland security, and moving technologies to the marketplace.

“We’re doing a lot of work trying to engage with industry, academia, other partners external to DHS so we can leverage, figure out how we can partner with you on solutions,” Small Business Innovation Research Director Dusty Lang said.

“Developing these technologies is challenging,” Lang added about the process from development to commercialization.

DHS S&T Programs include:

  • Binational Industrial Research and Development (BIRD), which provides grants to U.S. and Israeli entities partnering to develop advanced technologies of mutual interest for homeland security (BIRD Homeland Security Program) and cybersecurity (BIRD Cyber) missions
  • Hacking for Homeland Security (H4HS), which pairs university students with DHS mentors, technical experts, and business leaders to develop innovative solutions for homeland security problems
  • In-Q-Tel Engagement, which is a resource for DHS and federal partners to find innovative and cutting-edge, venture-backed commercial technology
  • Long Range Broad Agency Announcement (LBRAA), which is a standing invitation for members of the scientific and technical communities to propose novel solutions for RDT&E projects in support of national security; DHS S&T’s annual announcement of the LRBAA calls out 17 topics, including four new topics, three updated topics, and 10 enduring topics
  • Prize competitions that crowdsource innovation to harness the creativity of the American public to spur groundbreaking solutions to critical homeland security challenges
  • Silicon Valley Innovation Program (SVIP), which works with startups from around the world to develop and adapt innovative technology for operational missions
  • Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program, which works with U.S. small businesses to provide quality research and to develop new processes, products, and technologies in support of U.S. government missions
  • Targeted Broad Agency solicitations that are time-sensitive, topical, and execute defined research and development to deliver practical solutions to homeland security priority needs

To deliver solutions to solve homeland security challenges, DHS S&T coordinates intellectual property rights protection, licensing, and commercialization activities; uses the Commercialization Accelerator Program to increase the likelihood of the successful transfer of federally funded technologies from lab to market; and utilizes cooperative research and development agreements that facilitate collaborative R&D between DHS and a non-federal partner, the Homeland Security Startup Studio that brings together entrepreneurs and inventors to deliver technology solutions for homeland security, and partnership intermediary agreements that bring nonprofit entities with specialized skills to assist DHS with technology transfer and commercialization activities.

Sharene Young, portfolio manager for the Transportation Security Administration, said that gaps for which solutions are sought are typically identified by the components.

One gap on which S&T has a long-term focus is the opportunities and challenges posed by developing artificial intelligence for various homeland security applications. “We’re looking at AI from an algorithm perspective – how do we integrate this?” Young said.

John Fortune, manager of the Screening at Speed Program, said the program’s goals are improving screening effectiveness while also improving the passenger experience and bringing down the rate of false alarms.

“If you can check out at Safeway, why can you not screen yourself?” he said of the future potential for screening technologies.

S&T’s Industry Liaison is a dedicated point of contact for private-sector organizations to learn about S&T’s mission and R&D needs. To provide capability information, understand requirements and opportunities, or get questions answered, reach out to the industry liaison today at [email protected].

S&T’s Partnership Guide is a recently released critical resource to learn how the private sector can tap into the S&T network and get started. This guide includes important information on:

  • How S&T supports the full lifecycle of innovation for DHS, including engaging with innovators and other partners, developing and adapting solutions, and supporting the transfer and commercialization of capabilities to homeland security end users
  • Five key mission-focused areas and detailed descriptions of priority RDT&E needs
  • S&T’s partnership pathways, collaboration opportunities, and innovation funding programs to sponsor cutting-edge technology and capability development
  • How you can connect with S&T given your organization type and interests

“Understand what the S&T mission is,” Lang advised. “Working with different roles is important, understanding our customer – who’s the real customer that S&T wants to get to.”

“It’s an exciting time to be working in homeland security,” Howerton said. “There are lots of problems but the solutions are there, too – we just have to surface them.”

Bridget Johnson
Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a terrorism analyst and security consultant with a specialty in online open-source extremist propaganda, incitement, recruitment, and training. She hosts and presents in Homeland Security Today law enforcement training webinars studying a range of counterterrorism topics including conspiracy theory extremism, complex coordinated attacks, critical infrastructure attacks, arson terrorism, drone and venue threats, antisemitism and white supremacists, anti-government extremism, and WMD threats. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15 and a private investigator. Bridget is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera, BBC and SiriusXM.

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