Research arm puts lid on contracts

The Homeland Security Department's research division is considering quasi-classified procurement announcements to conceal U.S. security gaps.

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

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

The first such announcement should come by the end of the month, she said. Although she declined to say if it would be partly classified, she did say the procedure would be to tell vendors "if you are interested in the following area, then we send them a classified solicitation."

Alexander said the precautions are likely to be taken to avoid revealing U.S. vulnerabilities and exactly what kind of technology the country needs to develop to protect itself against terrorist acts. To compete for a contract, she said, companies must be able to store and receive classified documents.

The research program has every right to throw a security blanket over their 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."

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

DARPA rotates military and civilian experts and creates a "faster track that is more responsive to ultimate defense needs," Bjorklund 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."


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