New department will have flexibility in its IT procurements

TSA, which will be part of the new department, received considerable leeway in acquisition during its first year, systems chief Patrick Schambach says.

Henrik G. DeGyor

HSD agencies get streamlined authority for mission-critical buys in first five years

The Homeland Security Act passed last month by Congress eases procurement and development of new technologies.

For up to five years, the new Homeland Security Department's programs will be exempt from some purchasing requirements. The Federal Acquisition Regulation also will be amended for HSD's benefit.

The act authorizes a Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency, sets up a clearinghouse to evaluate new technologies and encourages new contractors to participate in developing domestic security tools.

Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) said shortly before the bill's final passage that the provisions would speed the transition of agencies to the new department and help introduce new technology into government faster.

The Defense Department got 'a wonderful response' from industry in dealing with the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the Pentagon, said Domenico C. Cipicchio, deputy director of procurement, contract policy and administration. He spoke at a conference last month in Reston, Va., sponsored by the Northern Virginia Technology Council.

Cipicchio said DOD was granted the flexibility to do 'what made sense.' Project Phoenix, the rebuilding of the damaged section of the Pentagon, was a good example of that flexibility, he said.

Higher ceiling

'The purchase card limit still is somewhat limiting,' Cipicchio said, although the ceiling for contingency operations was raised to $15,000 in the Defense authorization bill passed after the terrorist attacks.

The Transportation Security Administration, which will be part of HSD, also received considerable leeway in acquisition during its first year.

'We got a complete waiver from FAR,' said Patrick R. Schambach, TSA's associate undersecretary for information and security technologies. 'I felt like I had died and gone to heaven.'

The law requires the new department to use commercial networks for emergency response and off-the-shelf products for data handling and sharing whenever possible.

During the department's first five years, the Homeland Security secretary will have special streamlined acquisition authority for mission-critical purchases.

The micropurchase threshold is $7,500, and acquisition is simplified for contracts up to $200,000 within the United States and up to $300,000 outside the country. HSD has a limit of $7.5 million on simplified acquisitions.

Similar authority is granted to all other agencies for antiterrorism procurements solicited during the first year after the act's passage.

The new department also is exempt from pay limits on one-year emergency services contracts.

To ensure that necessary products are available, a section of the act gives relief from product liability claims. High-risk antiterrorism technology on the secretary's approved products list will be free from punitive damage judgments, and there are limits on other noneconomic damages. Overall liability is limited to a product's insurance coverage.

R&D exemptions

Under a five-year R&D pilot, the department also will be exempt from competitive requirements in issuing grants, contracts or cooperative agreements to prototype new technologies.

To further encourage innovation, the act requires that the FAR be revised within one year to allow acceptance of unsolicited proposals. Davis said the lack of specific authority has made agencies reluctant to consider such proposals.

After the terrorist attacks, the government was flooded with security proposals that agencies were unequipped to deal with, Davis said. The new department will have a technology clearinghouse 'to encourage and support innovative solutions to homeland security.'

The clearinghouse will disseminate information to federal, state and local agencies and also can solicit needed technologies. A technical assistance team will screen proposals and provide guidance to vendors, but it will not set standards.

The Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency has a $500 million technology acceleration fund to award competitive grants or contracts to companies, research centers and universities 'to promote revolutionary changes in technologies' for homeland security.

HSARPA will operate much like the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and can collaborate with it. For the first three years, at least 10 percent of expenditures from the acceleration fund will go to the Coast Guard, which is part of the new department, to improve ports, waterways and coastal surveillance.

About the Author

William Jackson is freelance writer and the author of the CyberEye blog.

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