DHS seeks better acquisition ideas

Borras: 'One-size fits all approach' to acquisition is 'unrealistic.'

man graphs performance

The Department of Homeland Security is on the lookout for new ideas to make the most of a shifting acquisition environment, according to the agency's top manager.

In a May 28 interview with FCW, Rafael Borras, DHS under secretary for management, tied the environment for IT acquisition at his department to the acquisition several years ago of a massive border security project: SBINet.

"SBInet pushed [Customs and Border Protection] to think about how their acquisition strategy worked. The border is different. It has different requirements in different places" on the ground, said Borras. "CBP tried to acquire big services through a single contractor. It eventually transitioned to a decentralized approach. It was a hard road, but we learned from it."

Borras oversees management of DHS's almost $60 billion budget, appropriations, expenditure of funds, accounting, and finance. He's also responsible for administering almost $19 billion in procurement.

SBInet was a massive 2006 contract with Boeing for new integrated system of personnel, infrastructure, technology and rapid response, encompassing border security capabilities from observation towers and sensors to communications technologies aimed at securing 2,000 miles of southwestern U.S. borderland. It was part of the larger Secure Borders Initiative that encompassed CBP, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and the U.S. Coast Guard.

Rafael Borras

Rafael Borras

SBInet's problems became apparent in 2008, when a Government Accountability Office study showed some systems deployed under the program had numerous performance issues. DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano ultimately sidelined the contract in 2011, ordering $50 million of it diverted to other efforts and freezing the rest of the work. The contract's troubled arc set the stage for CBP's current off-the-shelf approach to border security technology. In sidelining the contract, Napolitano said it had been "plagued with cost overruns and missed deadlines." Now-retired Sen. Joseph Liebeman (I-Conn.), who was the head of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee at the time, said the project's "one-size fits all approach was unrealistic."

SBInet, said Borras, offers a cautionary tale for the way DHS approaches IT products and services procurement these days, showing that a centralized approach to management and acquisition can have a steep downside.

DHS' IT acquisition process is in a state of flux as tightening budgets and shifting technology change ground rules, he said. The way the massive agency buys everything – as simple as pens and paper or as complex as IT is ripe for revision, and Borras said he is moving to embrace that change. But that requires some detailed planning.

"Don't tell me only that you want an agile approach," said Borras. He is pushing his acquisition managers and suppliers to think about the details and unique circumstances of their projects, and to think creatively.

"I want to provoke the acquisition community" into thinking differently, he said. "I don't want to run headlong into the latest IT fad. It's a big shift from waterfall acquisition to an agile approach."

Borras said he wants to get people thinking about underlying details and requirements of their projects, instead of just overlaying a rote acquisition strategy, either centralized or individualized. He said he has no't come to a determined conclusion on either, however. "What's the sweet spot? We don't really have the answer. We have to have a more sophisticated approach. It can't be one size fits all."

Borras is currently on a kind of fact-finding mission, asking for input from DHS acquisition officers and outside vendors on their ideas. He has been bringing vendors into the agency in small groups of half a dozen or so over the last few months to talk about the acquisition process, as well as talking to small-business groups about how they can get involved in selling to DHS. Ultimately, Borras said, he wants to have a set of common ideas for the acquisition process accumulated from the meetings by the end of July or early August that could help illuminate the way forward.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.