DHS works on tech standards

Standards for new technology and interoperability among legacy systems are a top priority for the Homeland Security Department's Science and Technology Directorate, DHS Undersecretary Charles McQueary told a House subcommittee this week.

The directorate has already published several standards for radiological detection technology, and experts are working on guidelines for everything from protective clothing to communications. The work is being done through the existing resources of organizations like the American National Standards Institute and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

"We have not become a standards agency; what we have become is a stimulator for other organizations to develop standards," McQueary told members of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security's Cybersecurity Science and Research and Development Subcommittee.

The bigger challenge has been in areas in which there is already a lot of government investment in technologies and that investment has not been in the same products or services across agencies, states and cities, McQueary said. Several members of the committee raised concerns about role of the directorate as different portions of government try to combine the technologies, particularly biometrics and communications.

The directorate had some input in the biometric solution used by the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology program, which uses fingerprints as the key identifier, McQueary said. In the future, that solution will need to change, and the directorate will be much more involved in determining the necessary technology, he said.

Biometrics is a relatively new technology with little legacy infrastructure compared to the communications equipment of first responders. For first responders, the directorate is focusing on standards for limited interoperability, primarily patch systems. Those will force interoperability for a defined group, which is not the most effective or efficient solution but is an important first step, McQueary told the subcommittee.

The goal is to develop standards that will guide investments down the road to phase into true interoperability, he said.

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