DHS goes commercial when it can

The commercial sector may serve as a template for how Homeland Security Department officials structure the agency, but the extent to which DHS borrows from industry will vary depending on the project.

In the agency's infrastructure layer, which includes networks, commercial best practices "will be something that we will push very hard," said Lee Holcomb, DHS' chief technology officer.

The same holds true for general-purpose enterprise applications that most, if not all, DHS components would use, including

document-handling systems, Web collaboration portals and the Electronically Managed Enterprise Resources for Government Efficiency and Effectiveness procurement, known as Emerge2, according to Holcomb. "In that piece, we are going to lean very heavily on industry best practices," he added.

Saving time is one bonus of using industry best practices. Government organizations can take advantage of commercially available technology, thus avoiding the lengthy process of custom development. And Holcomb cited the benefit of not having to support unique software packages, which are "very expensive to upgrade and maintain."

But DHS, by necessity, may leave the commercial path when it comes to multimission applications. The Office of the Chief Information Officer has begun looking for mission systems that could be deployed across more than one DHS directorate. Those solutions could include alert and warning systems or intelligence analysis systems.

"There, we are at the bleeding edge of industry," Holcomb said. "We are dealing with functional areas that are not widely used throughout industry. We are cutting new ground there in some cases."

Mission-specific applications, which have narrow applicability, also fit that profile. But even here the commercial sector may play a role. "We may look to industry best practices for the platforms [mission-specific applications] ride on," Holcomb said.

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