Bill would 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 agencies lack the technical expertise to evaluate those tools quickly or the buying authority to purchase them promptly, said Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.).

As a result, technology solutions for homeland security "have been sitting unevaluated," he said. To solve the problem, Davis introduced legislation last week to create a "multiagency technical assistance team" to assess the feasibility and merits of industry proposals and report findings to the agencies whose missions most closely match the proposals.

The interagency team would operate under the Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP), a branch of the Office of Management and Budget.

Davis' legislation would also launch a pilot program to promote wider use of faster buying procedures and would create a series of "monetary awards" of up to $20,000 to encourage companies to generate innovative "terror-fighting solutions" for the federal government.

A total of $500,000 would be available annually for awards. Recipients would be selected by the OFPP administrator.

Davis said his legislation was prompted by complaints from companies trying 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.

Davis is on the right track with the interagency team and faster procurement procedures, said Larry Allen, executive director of the Coalition for Government Procurement.

Senior industry leaders are increasingly frustrated by the slow track that government agencies follow to acquire technology and services needed for homeland security, he said.

"Industry is identifying the needs and the vulnerability," but agency acquisition officials encounter resistance from senior Bush administration officials when it comes to buying, Allen said. "There is an element of trust lacking that trained procurement officials can actually exercise sound business judgment."

During a February hearing before the House Government Reform Committee's Technology and Procurement Policy Subcommittee, which Davis chairs, 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 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 would prevent agencies from wasting money.

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