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CBP Chief Information Officer Sonny Bhagowalia Wins 1st Wash100 Award for IT, AI Leadership

CBP Chief Information Officer Sonny Bhagowalia Wins 1st Wash100 Award for IT, AI Leadership
Sonny Bhagowalia, Chief Information Officer, CBP

Executive Mosaic is honored to announce the selection of Sonny Bhagowalia, assistant commissioner at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office of Information Technology and CBP chief information officer, as a winner of the Wash100 award for 2024.

Vote for Sonny Bhagowalia as one of your favorite GovCon industry leaders for 2024! The Popular Vote Competition of the Wash100 Award runs through April 30, 2024.

The Wash100 awards are conferred annually to the 100 most influential and impactful leaders within the government contracting industry. Bhagowalia‘s win this year marks his first overall.

Commenting on Bhagowalia’s award, Executive Mosaic CEO Jim Garrettson underscored the scope of the CBP official’s duties, noting, “Sonny oversees the largest IT organization within [the Department of Homeland Security] — the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Information Technology, which has a budget of $1.8 billion.”

“In his dual-hatted role as OIT assistant commissioner and as CBP CIO, Sonny plays a critical role in bringing the most effective, powerful, cutting-edge technology to our nation’s borders, ports and checkpoints in support of national security missions. He is a technological expert and a decisive leader who we are proud to call a Wash100 winner for the first time this year,” added Garrettson, founder of the Wash100 Award.

A member of the Senior Executive Service, Bhagowalia joined CBP in 2018, holding the roles of OIT deputy assistant commissioner and CBP deputy CIO until 2020. Afterward, he was given the positions of acting OIT assistant commissioner and acting CBP CIO. In 2021, he was appointed to these positions in a permanent capacity.

An expert in cybersecurity, information technology and information resource management, Bhagowalia possesses decades of professional experience, having served in various technical, advisory and leadership roles in industry as well as across the U.S. government.

Bhagowalia will share insights informed by the depth of his experience at the Potomac Officers Club’s 5th Annual CIO Summit. Set to take place on April 17, the event will see CIOs and experts from industry and government tackle modernization strategies, emerging technologies and innovative solutions. Register now to attend this event!

For his first Wash100 win, Bhagowalia is being recognized for his work in promoting the adoption of artificial intelligence to help his agency carry out its mission.

The CBP CIO discussed the applications of AI during an August interview conducted by FedScoop. Bhagowalia shared with Wyatt Kash of Snoop News Group that CBP had begun to roll out AI to automate processes and make operations more efficient, especially by offloading time-intensive or repetitive tasks from human workers.

Bhagowalia also discussed how AI could be used for enhancing surveillance, making it possible to automatically detect, track and screen for activities or items of interest, such as goods produced using forced labor or other forms of contraband contained within cargo.

To achieve that last objective, CBP in April issued a solicitation for anomaly detection algorithms. According to a Federal News Network report, these algorithms would be used to enhance the systems the agency uses to screen cargo going through various ports of entry.

Not only did the acquisition seek to enhance national security; it sought to speed up the screening process as well. Bhagowalia explained the line of thinking behind the effort during an Armed Forces Communications & Electronics Association breakfast, where he said customs agents “need an assist” in sifting through millions of cargoes and that “we want AI/ML to tell us which container to look at.”

In December, a contract was awarded to Pangiam for the anomaly detection algorithm requirement. The trade and travel technology company will work with West Virginia University to develop an important tool for the CBP powered by AI, machine learning and computer vision.

Bhagowalia is also being honored for working to ensure that the CBP OIT’s nearly $2 billion budget is put to effective use, an effort that is best embodied by the release of CBP IT Strategy 2023-2027.

According to Bhagowalia, the strategy aims to align the OIT’s work with its vision of “[getting] the right information to the right people on any authorized device, anywhere, at any time” and its mission of “[delivering] secure, reliable IT services and capabilities anywhere, anytime at the speed of CBP’s 24/7 mission.”

The strategy also looks to ensure that the office supports the mission of the CBP, the mission and priorities of the Department of Homeland Security, the policies of the Federal CIO, the President’s Management Agenda and the National Security Strategy.

To realize OIT’s vision, the strategy lists six overarching goals: the provision of a scalable and reliable IT infrastructure; the building of mission-aligned applications; the administration of a trusted partner program, which anticipates partner needs and offers solutions; the provision of cybersecurity capabilities that address the threats posed by sophisticated and persistent actors; the improvement of IT governance capabilities; and the improved integration of CIO services to deliver a better customer experience.

Other IT-related accomplishments at the CBP in the past 12 months include enhancements to the CBP One app, which make it easier for users seeking to enter the U.S. to schedule appointments for processing at select ports of entry; the launch of an Electronic System for Travel Authorization mobile app for use by travelers who are potentially eligible to enter the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program; and the launch of a new mobile app for use by members of the Global Entry trusted traveler program.

More recently, the CBP launched a new website meant to improve its ability to recruit new personnel. The agency also unveiled a pair of dashboards that display dynamic statistics of trade violations related to the Enforce and Protect Act and e-Allegations programs.

Information and the technologies — like AI — that enable its speedy and accurate processing and communication to the people who need it are critical to the operation of any organization in the 21st century, including governments. The qualities that Bhagowalia possesses, as embodied by the way he has exercised his authority and responsibilities at the CBP, are therefore made especially crucial as the U.S. government works to stay ahead of the challenges it must face and the needs it must address. These qualities are what the Wash100 awards stands for and celebrate.

Congratulations to Sonny Bhagowalia and his team for the government official’s first-ever Wash100 win.

Cast a vote now to select Sonny Bhagowalia as one of your favorite GovCon industry leaders for 2024!

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Written by Jerry Petersen

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