In efforts to move toward a post-pandemic world, leading acquisition officials in the U.S. government have more on their minds than just dollars and cents. Even the technologies that they are attempting to acquire sometimes take a backseat to prioritizing the livelihood and strength of their workforce.
“You’re probably expecting me to talk about cameras and technologies and data and cybersecurity. I don’t want to minimize those things, but I do want to highlight that our number one priority right now…is the health resilience of our workforce,” said Mark Borkowski, assistant commissioner for the Office of Acquisition and chief acquisition officer at U.S. Customs and Border Protection, during a panel discussion at ExecutiveBiz’s virtual Homeland Security Forum on Tuesday.
If you missed the event, you can still watch the full forum — which also included a keynote address from Department of Homeland Security Chief Procurement Officer Paul Courtney — here.
Borowski went on to say that the current era has brought “incredibly stressful circumstances” for the Border staff. He was of course in part referencing the surge in applicants and immigrants migrating to the U.S. southern border in recent months and additionally highlighted his organization’s focus on supply chain risk management, another pandemic-related residuum.
During the panel discussion at the Homeland Security Forum, Borkowski additionally cited CBP’s focus on “cost-wise readiness” strategies, which he said were “a way of balancing cost and mission effectiveness of our systems going forward.”
Cathy Smith, acting director of the Office of Selection Acquisitions at the Department of Homeland Security, shared Borowski’s sentiments with regard to workforce, adding that DHS and her office in particular are looking to “maximize flexibilities” while staying dedicated to customers’ missions. Crucial to this, Smith said, is keeping in place allowances for teleworking so as to support the health of employees, as well as fair pay.
This is a “balancing act,” Smith said, because of the confidential nature of her work. Her office handles declassification and highly sensitive procurements for DHS. Borkowski noted that CBP likewise requires its candidates to pass background investigations with “extremely high standards” due to the seriousness of the agency’s tasks. During the panel, he attested that recruitment and finding the right people for the job was the responsibility he has the toughest time completing and the one he receives the most scrutiny about.
In detailing their procurement strategies, Smith and FEMA Deputy Chief Procurement Officer and acting Chief Security Officer Lester Ingol both cited a focus on including and soliciting the services of small businesses. Ingol said that through industry outreach events, FEMA has made efforts in all 10 of its regions to seek out business from underrepresented vendors. He reported the program having linked up with over 4,000 small business contractors in order to better equip the agency’s emergency and disaster relief and response efforts.
“Our mission set is expanding now. And some of the things that we are engaging with are totally different than what we did in the past. So we need to be a little more agile when it comes to delivering business,” Ingol stated.
Within the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, Chief Acquisition Executive David Patrick said cyber protection services are currently targeting “resource poor sectors” such as healthcare, K through 12 education and the water sector. Patrick said they are aiming to accomplish this via an embrace of the ‘secure by design’ and ‘secure by default’ models for products, which “lower the number of exploitable flaws” in terms of digital storage systems and are “strong out of the box.”
U.S. Coast Guard Senior Procurement Executive and Head of Contracting Activity Keith O’Neill was also a participant in the forum, and said the service branch is intently focused this year on ‘cradle to grave contracting’ or being thorough about a contract’s full lifecycle. This strategy encompasses “not only the planning, but also the soliciting, the negotiating, the evaluating, the awarding and the ensuring and closing of all the contracts that we award,” O’Neill shared.
Curious about more aspects of how top government officials are trying to keep our country safe through contract initiatives and more? Register for the Potomac Officers Club’s 2023 Border and Homeland Security Summit on May 3. A location will be announced soon.
Jody Hardin, executive director for planning, program analysis and evaluation at Customs and Border Protection, will be giving the opening keynote address. Register here.