DHS CIO: Trump team on board with agile

DHS CIO Luke McCormack 

DHS CIO Luke McCormack

The leaders of IT operations and acquisition at the Department of Homeland Security don't expect a change in the approach to procurement innovation at the sprawling agency, even as the White House changes hands. DHS CIO Luke McCormack said he has met several times with the incoming administration's transition team and is confident that they will continue the agency's push toward faster, more effective acquisition capabilities and efforts.

"They will want to accelerate" more agile and less traditional methods of acquisition, said McCormack at a Dec. 13 ACT IAC small business alliance conference on agile contracting in Washington, D.C.

Possible headwinds come from another source -- a handful of protests against the agency's showcase $1.5 billion Flexible Agile Support for the Homeland.

The FLASH contract is an integral part of the shift to agile, according to McCormack. Awards were made on the three-year contract to 13 companies at the end of November.

DHS is working to begin developing FLASH 2.0 "perhaps before 1.0 is finished," McCormack said. "We don't want gaps."

"There's enough of an ecosystem and things in the pipeline" that new acquisition efforts like FLASH "will continue" past changes at the White House.

Looking to the incoming administration's initial 100-day plan, McCormack said in his presentation, "there's a lot of activity. We've positioned ourselves for what is inevitably coming," he said.

DHS officials told FCW at the event said the agency is anticipating the need for faster, more efficient acquisition processes and program management capabilities as the new administration possibly begins implementing significant changes in border security and immigration programs. They're also anticipating the Trump administration will want to get new technology into component agencies quickly and efficiently.

Despite the optimism for the new contracting and acquisition techniques at DHS, its FLASH contract faces five protests from vendors following its late November award. Washington Technology said on Dec. 12 the list of five companies protesting the contract award could grow significantly, as 101 companies bid on it and only 13 won spots as prime contractors.

FLASH was heralded as a futuristic vehicle to provide DHS headquarters and component agencies with agile design and development support services. The agencywide vehicle includes concepts from the U.S. Digital Services Playbook such as user-centered design, DevOps, automated testing and agile.

The 13 winners were all businesses that could provide agile software development services to help design and develop new systems. A decision on the protests is expected by March 20.

"Yes. We have protests," Soraya Correa, DHS chief procurement officer said in her in remarks at the ACT IAC conference. "They will be resolved and we will move on."

Fear of failure, a bad Government Accountability Office report on a failed procurement, or criticism of a project in the press are obstacles to overcome and a hurdle for procurement evolution in the coming years, Correa said. If risks are considered, taken intelligently and comply with the law, then agency procurement officials can provide cover for risk-takers to flex their creativity, she said.

"I don't fear protests," she said, adding that she didn't like losing a protest because it means the agency may not have prepared thoroughly enough.

FLASH, Correa said, showed DHS can move quickly and deftly. Vendors were selected after physically demonstrating their capabilities to DHS, not in written documents. "We moved in three-and-a-half weeks," she said. "There were 114 proposals." The contract was the fastest ever completed by the agency, according to Correa.

With FLASH, McCormack said, DHS isn't looking to eliminate its $22 billion Enterprise Acquisition Gateway for Leading-Edge Solutions II (EAGLE II) contracting vehicle. Rather, McCormack and Correa said, the agency is looking to give components more choice and the ability to move among those vehicles as they seek out the best technological solutions and services for themselves.

"FLASH was built to bring in a new community. It doesn't discount what's on EAGLE II," McCormack said.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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