Four months into his tenure as the Homeland Security Department’s science and technology chief, Reginald Brothers on Monday opened an online outreach tool to gather input from stakeholders to create a “north star” set of visionary goals to guide DHS’ future.
In what is called a Collaboration Community, ideas for the department’s future investments are being solicited from federal, state, local and tribal agencies, as well as emergency responders, owners and operators of critical infrastructure, laboratories, universities, and key private sector industries, according to the department.
“The presumption is that the goals could take 20-30 years to achieve, but they would set us on a series of vectors that should last some time,” Brothers told Government Executive. “It should influence our investments and increase efficiencies for operational stakeholders.”
Proposed strategic goals are being refined based on policies and priorities from the White House, the 2014 Quadrennial Homeland Security Review, and the DHS secretary, the department said. “Crowdsourcing is not unusual, but this may be first time this particular agency has done it,” said Science and Technology Undersecretary Brothers, an electrical engineer who spent three years running technology research programs at the Defense Department. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has used Web-based platforms to similarly promote transparency, DHS noted.
The Science and Technology Directorate is DHS’ primary research and development arm and “technical core,” the department said. Broad themes for its coming strategic goals include new techniques to speed up noninvasive screening of travelers, nonintrusive online security protection against cyber threats, real-time actionable data on situations that can be used by decision makers to head off threats, and well-protected first-responders.
Respondents to the invitation need not be experts, Brothers stressed. “We want feedback from anyone who’s creative and concerned about DHS’ mission space and innovation,” he said. “You can talk to experts with lots of education, but a lot of my experience is that people outside your field can also provide useful input, and research shows that.”
The Collaboration Community “is not just a public relations effort, but, I would hope, a real attempt to reach out to all our stakeholders to get the best ideas to make a difference,” he said. “We have to communicate. In this time of limited resources, it’s important that we look toward cross-government collaboration at all levels, which is necessary to get a good return on investment. We have to work with all interested parties.”
Asked whether some of the feedback may be negative—from privacy advocates, for example, who argue that Homeland Security’s domestic intelligence-gathering at local fusion centers can threaten civil liberties—Brothers said, “We expect a wide span of responses, some critical and some complimentary.”
Messages on the website for the online Collaboration Community may be anonymous, though a return email address is required. Officials warn that information discussed or posted must be “non-sensitive and appropriate for the aforementioned audience.” (Respondents with information that requires secrecy can submit to a separate address at STIdeaScale@hq.dhs.gov.)
Users are encouraged to vote on others’ ideas. The channel will be open from Aug. 25 through Sept. 7.