Davis: Streamline homeland tech

The war on terrorism has generated a flood of suggestions from companies about ways the government could use technology to improve homeland security. But government agencies lack the technical expertise to evaluate the solutions quickly and the buying authority to purchase them promptly, said Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.).

As a result, technology proposals for homeland defense "have been sitting unevaluated," Davis said April 30. To solve the problem, he wants to create an interagency team of experts that would "screen and evaluate innovative proposals from industry."

He also wants to prod agency procurement officials to make greater use of existing "streamlined acquisition procedures" so agencies can buy off-the-shelf homeland security-related technology more quickly.

Davis said he plans to introduce legislation this week to create the interagency team and launch an acquisition pilot program that encourages greater use of faster buying procedures.

In addition, Davis said he will propose monetary awards of $20,000 to encourage companies to propose innovative "terror-fighting solutions" to the federal government. A total of $500,000 would be available annually for awards.

Davis said his legislation was prompted by complaints he has received from companies that have been frustrated in their attempts to sell technology for homeland security to the federal government.

Government agencies in general and the Office of Homeland Security in particular "have been overwhelmed by a flood of industry proposals offering various solutions to our homeland security challenges," said Davis, whose Northern Virginia district has a heavy concentration of technology companies.

"A lot of the technology firms with the expertise to address our security needs have contacted my office to let me know that they are having a hard time getting a real audience for their products," Davis said during a press conference announcing his legislation.

During a February hearing before the Government Reform Committee's Technology and Procurement Policy Subcommittee, of which Davis is chairman, technology company officials complained about the lack of an organized process within the federal government to evaluate technology solutions for homeland security.

Witnesses -- including Tom Siebel, chairman and chief executive officer of Siebel Systems Inc. -- were especially frustrated that the newly created Office of Homeland Security apparently lacks "the authority to make anything happen." Siebel said the government should be able to evaluate and act on homeland security proposals from industry in "weeks, not months or years."

Davis said that in addition to helping agencies identify technology that would be useful in the war against terrorism, his technology team also is intended to prevent agencies from wasting money.

Spending on homeland security is increasing dramatically. "We are spending more money than at any time since the mid 1980s," when former President Reagan poured hundreds of billions of dollars into a military buildup.

It was a time when defense contractors like Lockheed Corp. billed the Air Force $640 apiece for aircraft toilet seats and $435 for hammers. "We don't want to have those same kind of problems" as spending is increased for homeland security, Davis said.

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