Homeland security contracting expected to pick up

Companies looking to do business with the Homeland Security Department are likely to see procurement opportunities increase next year, technology experts from industry and government said on Thursday.

"I think you'll see, toward the end of [2003] and into [2004], a lot more investments happening," Jim Flyzik, who served as Tom Ridge's senior adviser for information technology in the White House Office of Homeland Security, said during a conference sponsored by the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association.

Flyzik, a former Treasury Department chief information officer who is now a partner in a consulting firm for companies that contract with the government, said homeland security officials are using most of the department's current budget for "planning purposes," such as mapping how to integrate the financial and human resources systems of the 22 component agencies.

"Operation and maintenance programs are moving forward, modernization efforts in the individual entities continue to move forward, and new investments under $500,000 are moving forward without an Investment Review Board review," Flyzik said.

But he likened the new department to a "holding company" that has a long way to go in merging functions. "So what you have going is the evolution of [turning] a holding company into a corporation," Flyzik said. "How do you turn 22 entities into one cohesive department?"

For companies hoping for lucrative contracts with the department, figuring out where to focus their homeland security resources is like "walking through a minefield," according to Steven Carrier, vice president of Northrop Grumman's information technology division.

"It's a very confusing landscape right now," he said, adding that the department is similar to a "huge startup company" that is still finding its way. "But we see it improving. They've probably come further than anybody thought they would, but it's still very difficult to address the department in its current state."

Carrier said following the homeland security "money trail" also is difficult, particularly for companies looking to do business with state and local agencies receiving federal grants.

But one potential focus for contractors is the Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency (HSARPA), according to retired Lt. Gen. Peter Kind, who was a special adviser to Ridge in the Office of Homeland Security. Kind said HSARPA expects to release a "broad agency announcement" soliciting innovative ideas "within a matter of weeks."

"That's going to outline the [fiscal 2003] funds available ... and it's going to be written in a broad context, so your ideas could fit into that," Kind said. "This is a major way to provide funding and focus and bring out the best that America has to offer ... and get it applied into the system."

Flyzik said HSARPA is likely to have a nearer-term focus than the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), on which it was modeled. "They really want to focus on ... technologies that are going to be available in the next maybe six months to a year, as opposed to some of the traditional DARPA things, which are longer term," he said.