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Hot Topics: Privacy and Procurement

February 25, 2010
By Henry Kenyon

While many conferences suffer from waning interest as panel session after panel session and speaker after speaker present valuable information over two days, this year's AFCEA Homeland Security conference proved to be quite the opposite. The Thursday afternoon sessions were nearly as full as the presentations that took place on Wednesday, at least in part because of the last topic discussion: procurement.

Before delving into this very important topic, however, experts discussed the balance between security and privacy, particularly when it comes to personal information. Mary Dixon, director of the Manpower Data Center, OSD, said that the issue is not only determining who can share information but also the larger issue of who should have access to what data.

For example, the guard at a military base gate does not need to know the details of a criminal background check of a person who wants to enter a base but would need to know that this person should be directed to the Visitors Center before being allowed to access the base.

Other problems loom, not the least of which is the sheer volume of information the government collects about citizens even when issues of privacy do not exist. Because no single agency could be expected to sift through all the data that has been collected about citizens, the government must focus on turning this data into information, Dixon said. This requires a common language and common markings for specific data sets, she recommended.

The final panel of the conference featured some lively discussion about the problems and possibilities in procurement and also some teases about what new programs, projects and products are waiting in the wings. Panelists hinted at opportunities to respond to RFPs in the very near future as well as throughout the year. Although budgets are being cut, DHS still has some funding available and the department's procurement officers intend to make the most of it.

Soraya Correa, DHS Office of Procurement Operations, said the future includes a very heavy investment in information technology, particularly as the DHS HQ is built out. In addition, all the panelists encouraged small businesses to bid, bid, bid. DHS has and will continue to purchase many of the products and services it needs from small companies, but these firms must take the initiative to respond to RFPs and bid on contracts.

More of the DHS' money is likely to be spent on services rather than products, but the work on securing the borders will continue and grow, offering a plethora of different opportunities for businesses to act upon. In fact, a new acquisition plan in this area is due to be announced within the next 30 days, Tiffany Hickson of the CBP procurement directorate revealed.

Also, although the EAGLE contract still has life in it, the DHS already is discussing the next generation -- although the panelists couldn't agree on whether it should be called EAGLE II or EAGLE Follow-on. Regardless of the name, it will take advantage of the lessons learned from EAGLE I and as a result two solicitations will be issued that will be slightly staggered in timing. Expect to see more about this RFP in the near future.

So what's your opinion about homeland security? Do you think the formation of DHS was a necessity or a mistake? What do you need to know about DHS so you can better serve both the department and the country? Comment, question, state -- this is your opportunity!

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