My Point of View

Lobbying Congress for a piece of the security procurement pie

I spent much of this week in Washington, D.C., attending the Government Security Summit held by the Security Industry Association (SIA). As most of you know, SIA is comprised of security vendors and service providers who have established a very influential and respected Congressional lobbying group. They are not the norm.

The general perception of lobbyist is not good. Like Rodney Dangerfield, they seldom get any respect. And even in a Gallup public opinion poll done a couple of years ago, the news for lobbyists was not good. Forget lawyers and car salesmen, the one occupation that finished dead last in the public’s eye was that of a lobbyist. In fact, if I remember correctly, one of the prime cause de celeb that drove the campaigns of both Senators’ John McCain and Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential election was the rooting out of offensive lobbyists from their respective campaign staffs.

However, lobbyists see themselves as the part of government process that helps keep those rascally politicians honest. Heck, even the First Amendment affords us the right to “petition the government for redress of grievances.” Isn’t that the job description of a lobbyist?

Months after the Department of Homeland Security was established, nearly 600 companies had registered a DHS lobbyist — with the majority being security and technology companies — thinking that they were tapping a potential endless fountain of federal funding. Suddenly, the government was the No. 1 client in town.

The stark reality over the last near-decade has been that a competent sales staff and a connected PR firm savvy in the ways of GSA schedules and procurement procedures trumps most lobbyists. The bottom line is as SIA and its representatives continue to foster relationships and offer creditable solutions, both vendors and end-users will reap the benefits — from legislation to standards. (Editor’s note: In fact, you can see for yourself what SIA is doing in the critical infrastructure market on page 46 of this issue.)

Yet, the budget process in Washington is more unpredictable than ever, as more than one speaker alluded to examples of political demagogy and partisanship. As Will Rogers said, “The budget is like a mythical bean bag. Congress votes mythical beans into it, then reaches in and tries to pull real ones out.”

The current budget debacle and debt ceiling controversy has made any company depending on a government contract a bit nervous. But even the government has come to realize it must cultivate private-sector cooperation when it comes to security R&D and technology development. As I wrote on after the Summit, if there was one prevalent theme permeating the event, it was that the federal government is now embracing new public-private partnerships in security technology sectors like never before.

Thomas Cellucci, Ph.D., the acting director of DHS’s research and development group and the chief commercialization officer for DHS as well, seeks out bona fide private-sector technology partners to help develop tomorrow’s cutting edge security solutions. “There is a new mindset here in Washington that asks, ‘Why does the federal government have to spend so much money developing products when the private sector would be glad to do it, and they could do it better, cheaper and faster?’,” he said.

Dr. Cellucci has spearheaded the SECURE (System Efficacy through Commercialization, Utilization, Relevance and Evaluation) program under DHS. The scope of the program enables DHS’s science and technology directorate to efficiently and cost-effectively leverage the resources, skills, experience and productivity of the private sector to develop technologies and products in alignment with specific requirements obtained from DHS components, the first responder community and other end-users involved in homeland security applications.

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