Members of a science party aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Healy, watch two unmanned wind-propelled and solar-powered surface vehicles Aug. 29, 2017, from the bridge of the cutter during a calibration rendezvous in the southern Chukchi Sea. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Amanda Norcross)

Charting a Post-Shutdown Course for DHS Contracting Opportunities

The Department of Homeland Security has not been able to ink new contracts during the partial government shutdown, leaving contractors and federal procurement specialists in limbo.

Still, the federal contracting community can plan for future opportunities. Knowledge of the wants and needs of cash-strapped agencies is crucial, according to an expert strategic advisory panel discussing the 2019 DHS procurement outlook Friday at the Government Technology & Services Coalition’s annual meeting in Arlington, Va. GTSC is the owner of HSToday.

“Nothing is going to move forward unless they [the government] get moving,” said Mike Smith, the former DHS director of strategic sourcing and now a vice president at GovConRx.

ICYMI: Here’s How the Government Shutdown Affects the Department of Homeland Security

Cyber Opportunities 

Smith, who founded Access Government Services, said that a number of upcoming opportunities exist in the technology sector.

“A lot of the things that are hot right now are in the cybersecurity area,” said Smith, who received the 2018 Market Maven award at the annual Homeland Security Today #HomelandHeroes ceremony for his work to facilitate and support a robust market.

National Cybersecurity Assessments and Technical Services, which conducts scheduled risk and vulnerability assessments on a scheduled basis, requires management, Smith said, adding that it will likely be a $100 million contract over a five-year period and presents a “good opportunity.”

NCATS conducts penetration testing for departments and agencies across the “.gov” environment. “They come in and check the agency out and see how well their network might survive under a real threat,” Smith said. “I think there’s still some discussions whether that’s going to be a small-business set-aside or not.”

Smith said that DHS also needs specialized help with the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center’s Hunt and Incident Response Team. “They go out and respond to actual incidents as they occur.  These are highly skilled, very quick response teams. While there is some day-to-day work that occurs on a routine basis, when an incident happens, a breach occurs or some other type of incident occurs, then these teams go out and react from a cybersecurity perspective,” he said. A big challenge here will be for companies to find a cost-effective way to rapidly bring on this highly specialized talent to respond to cyber emergencies

DHS will also be looking to fulfill a nearly $300 million contract for cybersecurity threat detection and analysis.  “So, there are a lot of new things happening in the cyber world,” Smith said.

He also recommended that companies interested in these cyber opportunities register on the Aquisition Resources Center (ARC), the business registry database that provides industry with a one-stop source for acquisition information for classified and highly sensitive procurements. 

Bill Weinberg, the former director of acquisition management at Immigration and Customs Enforcement, is now the managing director of the federal practice at Guidepost Solutions, Security, and Technology Consulting. He said that for ICE, detention beds are the biggest part of the discretionary budget.

“Bed costs alone consume over a third of the $7-$8 billion ICE budget now,” Weinberg said. “Right now, the number of people detained is in the high 40,000s, which is considerably above any of the budget numbers that are being tossed around between the Senate and the House versions of the Homeland Security bill.”

That means another year where the ICE budget could be facing a sizable budget shortfall, Weinberg warned.

“When you’re in the enforcement business, you enforce,” he said. “You don’t decide to not enforce, you don’t decide not to detain… and when the obstacles to removal get more prevalent you end up detaining people longer, using more money but removing fewer people and exceeding your budget.”

Working Within the Confines of the Coast Guard

Adm. Sandra Stosz, who retired last year as the USCG Deputy Commandant for Mission Support, said that Amazon’s intention to open a headquarters in Arlington spells more competition for talent for federal agencies and departments, including the Coast Guard. She is also a historical figure, as she was the first woman to be named superintendent of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.

“They’re coming with the promise of 25,000 jobs,” Stosz said. “The average salary of those 25,000 jobs is $150,000… And I’m really worried for the government, because we train these young people — we bring them to the academy or put them through school, but once they complete their obligated service, we might lose them. They’ve got to love our mission, which most of them do, but we can’t compete on the salary.”

“And, therefore, I really think that we in this room need to look at a way that we can add talent to what I call a ‘talent cloud,’ so we can share talent between government and industry,” she added.

The Coast Guard falls under DHS and remains the only military branch that is working while not getting paid during the government shutdown, which affects agencies whose appropriations bills have not been passed.

“I remember back in 2013, when I was superintendent of the Coast Guard Academy, we found out, calculated, who was going to be non-essential,” Stosz said. “And then we notified those people that they were non-essential, and they’d be going home and this was very upsetting to them because they were told they were non-essential, even though they were doing very important work.”

MORE: Here’s How the Government Shutdown Is Affecting the U.S. Coast Guard

Stosz said that Coast Guard IT needs modernization, but the USCG budget has not kept pace with inflation.

“We don’t have the infrastructure, processes and organizational construct necessary to most effectively build out our IT solutions,” she said. “So, keep that in mind when you’re working with Coast Guard. We don’t even have the funding to put into our enterprise mission platform to launch the endpoint devices and other technical systems and devices that we need to do our mission.”

Stosz explained that the Coast Guard is a small service doing big things on a shoestring budget.

“We’re really challenged on our money and all of our appropriations, and even five-year acquisition, construction improvement money that’s budgeted year-to-year could be rescinded by the Congress if it’s not all spent, making it very hard for us to manage,” she said. “We’re not the kind of border security that most people think of — we’re not the wall and we’re not detention beds. In fact, money for some of our capital assets is threatened by the need for detention beds and walls.”

ARCHIVE: Trump Administration Wants to Dip Into Coast Guard Budget for ICE, Other Agencies

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Multimedia journalist James Cullum has reported for over a decade to newspapers, magazines and websites in the D.C. metro area. He excels at finding order in chaotic environments, from slave liberations in South Sudan to the halls of the power in Washington, D.C.

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