Department of Homeland Security Chief Information Officer Eric Hysen said that by this time next year the department should have reached the point in supply chain security that it “should be clear to industry partners where we are going and what they need to do to come along with us.”
In an exclusive Homeland Security Today live conversation with Editorial Board member and former DHS CIO Luke McCormack, Hysen also discussed the desire for “deeper engagement” with industry as DHS works toward goals including better supporting needs of the workforce and delivering a better experience to the public engaging with department components.
In December, President Biden issued an executive order on Transforming Federal Customer Experience and Service Delivery to Rebuild Trust in Government, which required DHS to “test the use of innovative technologies at airport security checkpoints to reduce passenger wait times; provide new opportunities for customers to connect with the Transportation Security Administration, including as appropriate, online chat, improved communication during additional screenings, and additional mechanisms to provide customer feedback; design and deliver a streamlined, online disaster assistance application; and work with States to proactively update existing rules and policies on supporting documentation needed for disaster assistance processes to reduce burden and increase accessibility.”
Asked how implementation is going, Hysen noted that the executive order is the culmination of “many years of advocating for work like this.”
“We are embracing customer experience work more aggressively than any other department,” he said, adding that DHS interacts each day with more members of the public than any other federal agency.
Senior operators from components are helping to steer that work as the department looks at what capabilities components need and what policies need to be issued.
“We bake customer service experience into everything we do,” Hysen stressed. That includes goals of shaving millions of hours off the public’s paperwork burden by adopting tech solutions.
Where DHS needs support from vendors is helping ensure that the department has the right research and design skillsets to build out capacity to access, ensuring that becomes the default of how DHS is building new systems department wide, he said, noting as an example worthy of repeating the DHS app for state and local law enforcement partners that puts unclassified intelligence on their mobile devices. That started from “understanding our partners’ needs” and was tested along the way, resulting in a “stronger product.”
Asked what’s most useful in industry engagement, Hysen replied, “We know we need deeper engagement with our vendor partners,” and “know that we need to be asking significantly more of our vendors on managing the security of their own supply chains.”
DHS needs “feedback on how we get that right” in supply chain cybersecurity: what’s working, what’s not, what’s overly burdensome, and what could lock out the ability to work with some businesses.
Hysen began his tenure as CIO in February of last year, having previously served on the current administration’s transition team for Technology Strategy and Delivery. His federal government experience includes serving as executive director of the Department of Homeland Security Digital Service, where projects included immigration benefits processing, refugee admissions, and international trade. Before DHS, he was a founding member of the U.S. Digital Service at the White House.
Calling his job an “incredible privilege,” Hysen said that “more than anything” his and the department’s focus is on “better delivering for our workforce.”
“They are putting their lives on the line for our nation’s security, never hesitating to go above and beyond,” he said. “The secretary wants to make sure we are delivering back to them on what they need.” That includes better training, a budget that meets their needs, technology and acquisition programs to aid the workforce in executing mission, and facilities “that allow them to get the job done.”
Asked about what he’d like to see in the department a year from now, Hysen said he wants to see the level of cooperation exercised in border tech projects “being cemented as way of doing business.” The CTO community should be leading the government in use of AI technology including facial recognition software, he said, and be “explicit” to public about how this technology is being used. And the goal of supporting hybrid work dovetails with the quest to hire and keep top talent at the department.