House bill sets higher bar for DHS

Legislation would require department’s contractors to disclose foreign ownership

Editor's note: This story was updated at 3:20 p.m. May 21, 2007. Please go to Corrections & Clarifications to see what has changed.

The House passed a Homeland Security Department authorization bill May 9 that contains several procurement and technology mandates. The $39.9 billion bill also authorizes a funding increase for DHS that is $2 billion more than the amount President Bush requested in his 2008 budget proposal.

House lawmakers want DHS to implement a stricter procurement regime, expand its training of acquisition professionals, make greater progress on cybersecurity and develop a clear strategic vision.

The president has threatened to veto the bill because it contains a provision that overrides DHS’ ability to waive employees’ collective bargaining rights. The Bush administration said DHS needs the flexibility to waive bargaining rights as necessary to protect national security.

Other circumstances could derail the legislation even before it gets to the president’s desk. The Senate may not pass the DHS authorization legislation. It hasn’t passed any authorization bills in recent years, mainly because of committee jurisdictional disagreements, policy analysts say. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee chairman, said he intends to mark up the bill. However, no markup is scheduled, and there’s no indication of when or if it will be.

Industry officials say they welcome many of the provisions in the House bill, although some aspects of the legislation have drawn criticism. Jennifer Kerber, senior director of homeland security at the Information Technology Association of America, said it’s unclear what lawmakers intended in calling for an independent review of agency procurements to make sure they comply with the Buy American Act.

If that means more emphasis on domestic sourcing of products, it could cause difficulties for some programs, she said. Such a provision could affect DHS’ programs for sharing information with federal, state and local governments, she said, because a large amount of telecommunications equipment is manufactured overseas.

Industry officials are also concerned about a provision in the bill that requires contractors or subcontractors who submit bids on DHS contracts to declare whether they are owned or controlled by foreigners, said Larry Allen, executive director of the Coalition for Government Procurement.

“It doesn’t say what the DHS can buy from those companies, so on its face, it’s relatively benign,” Allen said, adding, however, that it puts DHS on a different playing field. The provision shows a fundamental lack of understanding in Congress of today’s global economy, he said. 

The bill would also codify in law an Office of Cybersecurity and Communications under an assistant secretary of cybersecurity. DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff created that position last year after strong insistence from Congress and industry that DHS give high-level attention to cybersecurity. 

But industry officials say the authorization bill could have gone further. “It doesn’t fully recognize the reorganization of the office that’s already under way there,” said Liesyl Franz, ITAA’s vice president of information security and a former DHS employee.

“In putting the onus on the department for recovery [of damaged critical information infrastructure], it doesn’t recognize the partnership between government and industry that’s needed for this,” she said.
DHS bill contains new tech mandatesThe House Homeland Security Department Fiscal 2008 Authorization Act includes provisions that would:

  • Establish a directorate for policy led by an undersecretary who would act as a strategic director for the department.
  • Require agency procurement officials to review prospective contractors’ past performance on all government and private-sector contracts.
  • Establish a separate acquisition training program for DHS contracting employees.
  • Require contractors and subcontractors to disclose foreign ownership or control.
  • Establish a cybersecurity and communications office led by an assistant secretary.
  • Require a strategic plan for science and technology development.
  • Require a comprehensive homeland security review, similar to the Defense Department’s Quadrennial Defense Review, to begin in 2009.
  • Authorize a $300 million grant program to help states pay expenses related to the Real ID Act.
— Brian Robinson

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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