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Monday, April 15, 2024

Border Security and Customs/Immigration Heroes Honored at HSToday Holiday Awards

Homeland Security Today’s annual Holiday Hero Awards honor those who have made lasting contributions to our nation’s security and risen to meet myriad challenges, recognizing those who have dedicated their careers to making our nation safer within the homeland security enterprise and those who have used their talents, determination, or platform to contribute to a safer country.

Here are the winners in the border security and customs and immigration field. (Read the full list of HSToday Award winners and Mission Award winners.)


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.

USCIS: Fusion Procurements, Contracting Officer and Component Innovation Coach Chad Parker 

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services needed to recompete two separate task orders

Award Accepted by David Jablonski Procurement Innovation Lab

for development, security, and operations (DevSecOps) — one for risk and the other for fraud — to operate, maintain and enhance the current fraud detection and national security systems that support Executive Order 13780 (Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States) and support USCIS’s implementation of new guidelines and capability to comply with the EO. The contracting officer on the team provided procurement innovation coaching support, for the first time, while being shadowed by a Procurement Innovation Lab (PIL) coach. The team sought to streamline the evaluation process. With the two task orders expiring around the same time, USCIS wanted to recompete both requirements together in one to solicitation (but not bundle them into a single award) to streamline the approval and evaluation process for the requirement. The team used a new technique called fusion procurements to streamline the procurement process. Using this technique, USCIS issued one solicitation to solicit quotes for the two FINCH requirements with the plan of awarding two separate task order awards. Using FAR 16.505 Fair Opportunity procedures, the team used a two-phased advisory down-select approach. In Phase 1, quoters submitted a 4-page response to three questions about their specialized experience related to one or both FINCH requirements. In phase 2, vendors submitted a written past performance questionnaire and participated in an all-day coding challenge followed by an oral presentation. As a result of this streamlined approach, USCIS received 18 quotes in Phase 1 and advised 7 vendors to proceed to the second phase, with all but one vendor taking the government’s advice to proceed to Phase 2. The Phase 2 coding challenge did not go as planned! During the coding challenge, the USCIS team had an unexpected experience when the cloud platform being used did not capture the code that was written by the vendors. Having to decide on how to proceed upon learning that the cloud platform did not capture the all-day coding challenge submissions in Phase 2, the CO asked all 8 vendors to repeat the all-day coding challenge. This time, the procurement team had their subject-matter-experts (SMEs) fully test the cloud platform before hosting the repeat coding challenges to ensure it met all requirements and would save the submissions.

Using the fusion procurement process to award two task orders from one solicitation significantly cut down on the administrative processes, even with the necessary repeat of the Phase 2 coding challenge. USCIS was able to award both task orders with a combined value of $231 million just 7 months after the release of the solicitation. This was the first time the contracting officer served as the innovation coach for a procurement. Rather than panic and cancel the solicitation when something did not go as planned, he employed the PIL framework of testing and sharing by quickly learning forward from the coding challenge debacle and used the discretion allowed him in FAR Part 1 to have vendors repeat the coding challenge to keep the procurement moving forward to ensure timely delivery of the mission. All vendors were treated fairly and so there was no need to cancel simply because something did not go as planned. A learning culture of testing, sharing, obtaining feedback, and testing again creates a learning organization that is better able to adapt to unexpected challenges to better meet the mission. This USCIS FINCH team demonstrated the benefits of a learning culture and were able to timely support the mission of their frontline users by failing fast and quickly learning forward from their coding challenge.

In addition to Parker, the USCIS FINCH Team is Secondary Contracting Officers Sylwia Salkic and Morgan Skaggs, Program Lead Scott Purnell Saunders, and Legal Advisor Dana-Marie Akpan.

CBP: IT Marketplace, Betty Matias, Gloria Contreras, and Cheryl Ogden

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s mission of securing the nation’s borders and

CBP IT Marketplace Team

facilitating legal trade and travel is supported by a workforce of more than 60,000 each day. Betty Matias and Gloria Contreras, the new IT Marketplace Team, exhibit their dedication to this critical mission daily. The new venue, IT Marketplace, provides CBP offices the ability to order products via other means unavailable to CBP during the month of September. Over the course of FY22, Matias and Contreras executed innovative and performance- centered processes to successfully complete a series of procurements for multiple offices across CBP resulting in completing 1,017 task orders within 17 Procurement Requisitions and obligating approximately $29 million. Additionally, their exemplary dedication to mission and professionalism streamlined requirements and eliminated duplication of efforts by 90 percent; this differentiating factor sets them apart.

Matias and Contreras, as a team, exceeded expectations with the IT Marketplace ordering process and increased productivity, which left zero dollars in funds unspent. Their work practices and commitment to acquisition excellence are invaluable and proved the success of the IT Marketplace ordering process for CBP.

Cheryl Ogden was instrumental as a member of the IT Marketplace team of CBP. Her efforts helped to streamline all procurement acquisitions for selected IT commodity buys to reduce the number of procurement actions done by procurement and therefore maximizing procurement resources. She also consolidated the commodity buys to allow CBP to have an anticipated benefit of quantity pricing/discounts to be leveraged for the good of all CBP. In FY21 the IT Marketplace saved $4 million for CBP; for FY22 the IT Marketplace saved $2.5 million allowing the savings to be redirected for other CBP mission-critical requirements. Further, the streamlining of the commodity acquisitions also allows OIT to ensure that all devices deployed are fully imaged, patched, updated and managed for network and cybersecurity requirements by reducing the IT device sprawl through the enterprise infrastructure.


This award recognizes those who were met with extraordinary challenges and rose “above and beyond” their day-to-day job to meet them. Our inaugural winners are bound by their efforts in private and public sectors to help evacuees from Ukraine.

Dale Buckner, CEO, Global Guardian

Dale Buckner and Global Guardian, a provider of security solutions to a global client base,

Award accepted by Chuck Costanza Executive Vice President Client Engagement Global Guardian

rose to the occasion after Russia invaded Ukraine. Utilizing the vast network that Global Guardian has established within the industry, Global Guardian was able to efficiently evacuate over 4,000 individuals under very difficult situations from Ukraine to safety. Buckner and Global Guardian continued to field requests and take action until occupation of cities made entry and exit impossible.

Buckner is a 24-year U.S. Army Veteran, retiring with the rank of colonel. He has extensive intelligence, counterterrorism and special operations experience, commanding 5 organizations including an Infantry Reconnaissance Platoon, Special Forces Scuba Team, Special Force Counter-Terrorism Team, a Special Forces Counter-Terrorism Task Force, and a Special Troops Battalion. He has numerous combat and classified deployments including Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Colombia, Cuba, El Salvador, Chile, Panama and Haiti.

Kareem Baker, Project Manager, U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Kareem Baker was able to cost-effectively innovate as well as adapt existing mechanisms, ensuring a seamless vetting and processing experience for Ukrainian citizens seeking refuge in the United States, enabling air carriers to validate an approved application, and generate a boarding pass, assisting CBP officers to confirm a noncitizen’s eligibility, and deploying a public-facing web portal that allowed Ukrainians to submit for travel approval to the US. Using the Arrival and Departure Information System (ADIS) to process I-134 forms, the team worked with stakeholders to improve data the CBP officers receive at the port, embed updated biometric information, coordinate additional vetting rules specifically for the Ukraine travelers, and provide time-sensitive status information to assist with processing. In six days, Kareem’s team deployed over 15 enhancements to existing functions, saved significant money in man hours, and collaborated with over a dozen agencies and applications.

Baker, working with airport authorities, air carriers, HHS, DoD, DHS, DoS, and OGAs, set up processing facilities and processing centers for Ukrainian evacuee arrivals, and created dashboards that promote interoperability between DoD, CBP, DoS, USCIS, and the TSA. PSPD worked with multiple stakeholders to automate traveler vetting against law enforcement databases and allow for manual vetting by the NTC as well as integrating with the NVC, and ATIS provides air carriers the ability to validate an approved application and generate a noncitizen’s boarding pass, providing CBP officers at POEs confirmation of a noncitizen’s application status. Baker’s team was able to collaborate efforts with more than a dozen agencies, internal support and application teams, and stakeholder entities to roll out completely new functionalities, automate multiple processes, increase capacity and performance of current applications, and minimize the costs normally associated with such a huge effort.


Each year, Homeland Security Today honors shining stars in the community who are making their own unique, invaluable contributions to advance the mission of keeping America safer from myriad threats. Their strong commitment to mission touches every part of their work, from day-to-day operations to special projects and work in the community. 

Bruce Dodd, Deputy Director of Field Operations for Preclearance, U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Bruce Dodd is pioneering new approaches and technologies within CBP Preclearance to drive the mission forward. As the Deputy Director, Dodd has been instrumental in a large organizational restructuring effort to streamline efforts and promote increased collaboration across CBP’s international operations and programs. D-DFO Dodd’s mindset and role in the restructuring of international operations will help transform the way CBP expands its borders and further aid in efforts to build international partnerships to enhance national and economic security.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection Automated Commercial Environment: Steven Lubel, Branch Chief, Cargo Release; Autumn Maxey, Lead IT Specialist, and Renee Messalle, Director of Entry Summary Accounts and Revenue Development Division with CBP’s Cargo Systems Program Directorate

The Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) clears and processes more than 12

Autumn Maxey Steven Lubel

million cargo entries per year valued at over $2.7 trillion in imports, $1.6 trillion in exports and over $90 billion collected in duties, taxes and fees. Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Information and Technology developed and deployed the High Value Asset (HVA) Modernized ACE Portal. With the ACE Portal modernization, CBP transitioned the legacy, unstable and costly legacy infrastructure to a best-in-class Cloud-based Salesforce application. This created a modernized platform for nearly 60,000 trade, partner government agencies, and CBP users that provides a seamless and enhanced user experience facilitating legitimate trade by automating tools and information. This deployment resulted from an extensive partnership among CBP, partner government agencies, trade industry partners and stakeholders.

Through the ACE Portal, manual processes are streamlined and automated as the international trade community continues to comply with U.S. laws and regulations of global trade effectively and efficiently, U.S. security and economic growth continues to prosper and strengthen. The ACE Portal is a complex global revenue information technology system that facilitates the electronic importation and exportation of goods. Overall, this modernization simplified the ACE Portal interface with enhanced account navigation is organized to fit user needs, noticeably improving response times with real-time access to trade data while providing best-in-class cloud-based technology that exceeds the industry standard.

Steven Lubel led the charge to transition the legacy ACE Portal to a cloud-based application. He embraced the use of agile methodology to provide immediate feedback and course corrections as needed. The use of the agile execution has been duplicated across CBP and created a lasting and positive impact to other program modernization efforts.

Lubel seamlessly considers key rules and regulatory requirements of critical partner government agencies (such as CDC, FDA, and USDA) to ensure the trade can function with minimal interruption. CBP is in constant contact with internal and external stakeholders and partner government agencies to ensure the portal meets government and trade requirements at the need of mission.

Autumn Maxey executed the major agile solution for Collections Releases 1 – 6, through the proven agile and DevOps execution within budget, on time and with no major issues. Releases 4 – 6 funding were innovatively pursued by DHS/CBP and was awarded and funded by the Technology Modernization Fund in a climate where funding priorities present a challenge to modernization while aligning with the ever-changing trade community’s prioritized timelines and needs. With these agile DevOps practices, CBP will continue to be able to collect over $90 billion in duties, taxes and fees.

Renee Messalle is the director of Entry Summary Accounts and Revenue Development Division with CBP’s Cargo Systems Program Directorate (CSPD). CSPD manages the development and maintenance of the Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) system. ACE clears and processes more than 12 million cargo entries per year valued at over $2.7 trillion in imports, $1.6 trillion in exports and over $90 billion collected in duties, taxes and fees. Renee has successfully led and managed the CBP ACE Collections Development team that has executed an agile and DevOps solution for modernizing the ACE Collections process, which has currently included 6 Releases within budget, on time and with no major issues. For Releases 4, 5 and 6, funding was innovatively pursued by DHS/CBP in a climate where funding priorities presented a challenge to modernization, while aligning with the ever-changing Trade Community’s prioritized timelines and needs. CBP was successfully awarded and funded $15 million in Technology Modernization Funds governed and funded by the General Services Administration to help modernize ACE Collections. This CBP modernization of ACE Collection processes is providing major improvement for user experience for the trade community, reduces administrative and manual processing by CBP users, enables implementation of 21st century customs framework components, improves processing time and data quality, and supports DHS and CBP goals of streamlining trade facilitation while improving the ability to direct limited resources to known bad actors using modern, data-driven analytics.

Adina Pantella, Acting Director, Passenger Targeting, Office of Information and Technology, Targeting and Analysis Systems Program Directorate, U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Adina Pantella is the Acting Director, Passenger Targeting, Office of Information and

Adina Pantella

Technology, Targeting and Analysis Systems Program Directorate (TASPD), Customs and Border Protection (CBP). In this role,  Pantellla manages a large, diverse, heavily cross-matrixed team focused on supporting passenger targeting systems at the 328 ports of entry and strategic international locations for all modes of transportation. She has worked tirelessly to advance the mission of the Department of Homeland Security and the United States, engaging the upgrade of existing legacy systems to the cloud and delivering significant operational notable innovation.

For this specific year, Pantella’s main focus has been on the development and deployment of a new, cloud-native desktop application to replace two legacy case processing systems. This application was established to standardize and streamline CBP case processing and custody management for both U.S. Border Patrol (USBP) agents and CBP Office of Field Operations (OFO) officers with a single system. High-level goals are to consolidate two different systems with different data repositories into one shared system with one data repository for consistent data capture and reporting. The first test rollout occurred in March 2022, and regular updates are occurring. The results have been positive to date with significant benefits, among them integrating workflows into one intuitive interface that will enable USBP agents and OFO officers to support each other in times of emergencies or surges. This particular application initiative required a specific kind of person, able to work and build consensus not only within the CBP organization, but across to other national security teams. It is one of several major immigration-related initiatives under Pantella’s portfolio. She also provided hands-on management support for the department’s response to Unified for Ukraine (U4U) as well as the response to recent immigration surges at the U.S. Southwest Border.

Pantella has spearheaded the development of all requirements, priorities, and a detailed, yet flexible roadmap to achieve project success. Pantella exemplifies the department’s leadership philosophy, principles, and core values of integrity, vigilance, and respect. She is completely focused on project success, while at the same time putting employees first and motivating team members to work collaboratively in a fast-paced environment. Pantella’s sincere dedication and commitment to excellence has contributed immeasurably to the success of CBP, DHS and national security objectives.

Rob Thorne, Chief Information Security Officer, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

With the new memorandums and Executive Orders on zero trust, Rob Thorne applied forward-leaning approaches to strategically respond to these new requirements. His initiative put ICE in a forward-leaning orientation, putting the agency ahead of peer organizations.

In 2022, Thorne kicked off a zero trust assessment to deliver an ICE-specific zero trust implementation framework and a zero trust maturity and gap assessment and to create a zero trust roadmap and architecture for the agency. Thorne empowered his team to forge a holistic approach to tackling the complex demands of zero trust. The framework and maturity effort included translating more than 14 EOs and memorandums into more than 160 ICE-specific requirements, and the gap assessment involved coordination of more than 115 stakeholders and an initial deep dive into 13 sample systems and more than 250 documents. The findings from the assessment will allow ICE to become one of first government entities to create a Zero Trust Architecture (ZTA). Thorne also leads the Cyber Defense and Intelligence Support Services (CDISS) program, which provides comprehensive cyber security operations and engineering services to ICE including monitoring and alerting through a security operations center, incident response, vulnerability management, security engineering and proactive defenses including cyber threat intelligence, a penetration testing/red team, and dedicated threat hunters.

Under Thorne’s leadership, ICE became the first federal civilian entity to obtain a DoD Cybersecurity Service Provider (CSSP) certification. The endeavor to obtain that certification resulted in DHS adopting the foundation of the CSSP and creating a derivative program for the federal civilian sector (DHS CSP).  After obtaining the DoD recognition, ICE was immediately awarded the first DHS CSP Center of Excellence (COE) and the first federal civilian agency to re-certify as a CSP COE.

Paul Weston, Section Chief, Security Assurance Branch, Information Assurance Division, OCIO, Immigration and Customs Enforcement

Paul Weston has championed SecDevOps and has shifted security left in OCIO enabling development teams to build security into their pipelines rather than waiting until production to discover and remediate vulnerabilities. His team has made the process extremely easy for development teams to adopt tools and techniques to be more secure and produce software faster, all while expending less energy than before. With the Secure Hardened Image, projects can deploy their applications to a Linux image with less than 20 security compliance findings (down from ~180 and all baselined). The image is rebuilt and patched daily, eliminating the need for teams to patch on their own and encouraging immutable infrastructure. By providing a reference pipeline architecture and extensive documentation, he has empowered development teams to build security scanning into their pipelines so that every build produces the evidence ISSOs need to make a risk determination. This leads toward building a continuous ATO process where documentation is generated on-the-fly via OSCAL, collecting evidence from the pipeline, and providing a real-time assessment of security and compliance. Weston also put the same capabilities in place for containerized workflows as development teams move to the next generation of architectures, building off the work of DoD’s Iron Bank, producing UBI hardened container images for ICE, and defining the security and development strategies for containers in the Containerization Working Group.

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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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