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After Sept. 11, the suddenly much more credible threat of a bioterrorist attack on U.S. soil shook up the federal government. In less than one year, a new Cabinet department was conceived and created to protect American lives. Among other responsibilities, Congress concluded that the new Department of Homeland Security needed to support and encourage research and development in anti-terrorist technology. The war on terrorism, like the Cold War, said Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.), chairman of the House Science Committee, “will be won as much in the laboratory as on the battlefield.” So Congress added an undersecretary for science and technology to the White House’s draft of the Homeland Security Act. The role of the undersecretary is to make sure that the department deploys the best cutting-edge technologies and scientific talent in its efforts to keep America safe. Congress also recognized that there is a “technology treasure trove” within private industry that the government needs to tap. So in Section 313 of the Homeland Security Act, lawmakers established under the auspices of the Office of Science and Technology a “technology clearinghouse to encourage and support innovative solutions to enhance homeland security.” This groundbreaking program will have five key components: • A centralized database will be created to amass information relating to technologies that could help further the mission of the Department of Homeland Security. This wealth of information will be disseminated as appropriate to federal, state, and local government agencies and to the private sector. • Public announcements will be made as to when and where the federal government is seeking proposals for innovative technologies. • A technical assistance team will screen proposals and determine their technical merit, feasibility, and cost. • The clearinghouse will provide guidance and technical assistance to federal, state, and local government agencies and the private sector, as needed, to implement the use of new technologies. • The clearinghouse will provide information to companies and individuals who want to submit proposals to the government for research or deployment of technologies to enhance homeland security. There is no other office or program in the federal government like the technology clearinghouse. This one succinct yet obscure provision of the Homeland Security Act creates a program that will — in a marked departure from the government’s standard procurement standoffishness — reach out to the scientific and technology communities. If fully implemented, it could shake up the way the federal government does business. Is that what Congress intended? In short, yes. A FLOOD OF IDEAS The idea of a technology clearinghouse began in the Senate, as part of the proposed Science and Technology Mobilization Act, which passed the Senate on July 18, 2002. It had rocketed through the Commerce Committee after its introduction by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and George Allen (R-Va.) in late March. One of the goals of that legislation, as explained by Wyden, was to create a center “to serve as a single contact point and clearinghouse for evaluating promising security and emergency response technologies.” According to the Senate Commerce Committee report, “in the aftermath of September 11, while many technology companies volunteered valuable services — and their expertise was critical in recovery efforts — frequently volunteers had a difficult time contacting the officials and organizations that could have benefited from their help.” The committee found that the lack of effective communication and cooperation, both within the government and between the government and the private sector, needed to be corrected to “facilitate an effective response to terrorist attacks and other significant physical threats in the future.” Indeed, in the days, weeks, and months after Sept. 11, federal agencies were completely incapable of dealing with the deluge of offers of assistance they received. They simply had no mechanism or infrastructure to accept and evaluate so many unsolicited proposals. At the same time, Congress recognized that the solution to America’s homeland defense threats might very well lie in that mountain of unanswered proposals. Lawmakers found that the private sector “currently possesses and is producing a growing number of technologies designed to enhance homeland security.” The government therefore needed to come up with a new way to centralize, organize, and staff its evaluation of innovative technologies. So the House added the idea of the clearinghouse to its version of the Homeland Security Act in order to “ensure that entrepreneurs and inventors can get through quickly and easily to government officials who can help them develop their ideas.” A little-known office within the Department of Defense, nondescriptly named the Technical Support Working Group, served as an initial model in both the House and Senate bills. The working group coordinates interagency counterterrorism research and identifies promising new technologies. It is interesting to note, however, that, in the final version of the Homeland Security Act, Congress gave the technology clearinghouse its own distinct charter and removed all references to the Defense working group. The conclusion must be that Congress intended the clearinghouse to be something new and unique. CALLING FOR GIZMOS Despite this scant legislative history, it seems clear that the main goal of Congress in creating the technology clearinghouse was to ultimately pave the way for government research funding to reach those small companies that are even now developing innovative security technologies. As Wyden put it, “someone may be creating a new gizmo in their garage that could eventually save American lives. The government should organize structures to help creative ideas find their way in. It is essential that our government institutions help, and do not hinder, the movement of these technologies to the front lines against terror.” So how should the Department of Homeland Security implement Section 313? Here are some simple, practical suggestions that have their genesis in the language of the Senate bill. • Make the technology clearinghouse a one-stop shop.First and foremost, the clearinghouse should offer a government-widedatabase of all homeland security and biodefense funding opportunities. Even after the creation of the new department, many other agencies continue to have a role in homeland security. Currently, government procurement databases either cover the full (and enormous) range of Uncle Sam’s contracting needs or are narrowly agency-specific. No database now available is topic-specific, much less focused on the topic of homeland security and biodefense. What small companies need is a one-stop shop. They need one Web address where they can find synopses of the funding opportunities in just this area, and then link to detailed descriptions on the offering agency’s Web site. • Standardize the proposal process.The clearinghouse should seek agreement among federal agencies on a standard template for proposals so that all initial proposals can be provided in the same short and simple format,regardless of which agency requests them. Currently, every office seeking proposals — even within the same agency — requires submissions in its own format, making preparation very time-consuming. A universal form would make it easier for companies to reach multiple agencies and would thereby remove one of the major barriers to companies seeking to assist the government in conducting homeland security and biodefense research. • Create a bulletin board.On the same Web site, the clearinghouse should have a place for companies to post proposals for any interested agency to review. Create a bulletin board for ideas — a simple outlet for all the companies out there in search of government support and convinced that they have an answer for Uncle Sam. The bulletin board must be visible to all government agencies looking for these types of technology, but onlyto government agencies. It should not become a mechanism for companies to learn about their competitors. If companies know that their ideas will be kept confidential, they are much more likely to provide critical details about their technology and its capabilities. The clearinghouse can initially screen and seek testing of any promising concepts it receives. There’s one more key point that should be made about the clearinghouse: While it may be the start of a trend toward demystifying the procurement process for entrepreneurs and accelerating technology innovation, it should not become a back channel for procurement decisions. The clearinghouse should not displace the government’s fundamental reliance on full and open competition. Indeed, Congress made clear that it would not be a substitute for the formal evaluation process in any particular solicitation of proposals, and it would not set technology standards or requirements for the government. Part of the Program In addition to the clearinghouse, Congress also created the Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency — modeled on the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) — to develop revolutionary new technologies to alleviate domestic security vulnerabilities. Congress concluded that technology development in the area of homeland defense needed to be accelerated and that DARPA had been successfully doing a similar job for years within the Defense Department. It is true that DARPA focuses on funding high-risk, high-payoff technologies that might otherwise never make it out of the lab. The agency has funded innovative efforts, and those initiatives have led to tangible commercial results — just look at the Internet. But DARPA has not been a wellspring of technology for the military services, which ordinarily fund their own research and development projects. And it has not successfully integrated its research with the procurement plans and programs of the rest of the Pentagon. The Homeland Security “ARPA” should fund the same type of cutting-edge technology that DARPA does, but it should not repeat DARPA’s mistakes. The new HSARPA should take care that it is well integrated into the department’s and the government’s strategic and research and development plans for homeland security. Congress was right that the Department of Homeland Security needs a dedicated effort to find the innovative new technologies that can make us safer. Now the department itself must be innovative in implementing these new programs so that the effort bears fruit. Monica P. Medina is a shareholder in the D.C. office of Heller Ehrman White & McAuliffe, where she practices in the areas of government relations and environmental counseling and litigation. Medina can be reached at [email protected].

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