DHS may restrict access to some solicitations

The Homeland Security Department's research division may issue quasi-classified procurement announcements to avoid tipping off potential terrorists about U.S. security gaps.

The Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency (HSARPA) is likely to model its broad agency announcements after the Pentagon's handling of classified projects, said Jane Alexander, HSARPA's deputy director.

"It is similar to what we have done at the Department of Defense," Alexander said. "Sometimes you do a phased [Broad Agency Announcement] if the BAA itself is classified and I can't publish it openly."

Renny DiPentima, SRA International Inc.'s president of consulting and systems integration, said restricting solicitations would make it difficult for some companies to work with HSARPA.

However, "a well-functioning contracting organization will be able to solicit bids from organizations known to be able to perform the desired type of work," he said.

"U.S. intelligence agencies, of course, do not always issue public solicitations for their required technologies, yet they have been successful in conducting fair competitions," DiPentima said.

Alexander said the agency is trying to avoid revealing too many details about the nation's weaknesses in homeland security and the technology needed to fix them.

To compete for a contract, she said, companies must be able to store and receive classified documents.

HSARPA has every right to throw a security blanket over its solicitations, according to Larry Allen, executive vice president of the Coalition for Government Procurement.

"This should not come as any great shock to anyone involved in government contracting," Allen said. "It is a concern to them because they would be putting everything out there on what their needs are for the world to see."

Ray Bjorklund, a vice president at Federal Sources Inc., a market research firm in McLean, Va., said the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has been mostly successful in "going out and getting new technology" using this technique.

DARPA has been successful because it rotates military and civilian experts through its doors and creates a "faster track that is more responsive to ultimate Defense needs," he said. HSARPA needs to create a similar model using field officers from border patrol and law enforcement who are "far more sensitive to user needs."

Alexander and other former DARPA employees now at DHS know how DARPA operates, according to agency spokeswoman Jan Walker.

"The vast majority of our solicitations are unclassified," Walker said. "Where we do have programs where we need to impart classified information as part of the solicitation process, we tend to have a classified annex."

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Seeking input

The Homeland Security Department's Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency is expected to issue its first Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) by the end of this month, said Jane Alexander, the division's deputy director.

Alexander declined to say if the BAA would be partly classified, but she did say the procedureincludes finding out what vendors are interested in a particular area and then sending them a classified solicitation.

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