Lobbying Congress for a Piece of the Security Procurement Pie

June 29, 2011

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 SecurityInfoWatch.com 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.
“We need to provide products and services to our various agencies and also provide the best solutions possible to our first responders. And we are looking for the private sector partnerships to get us there,” said Dr. Cellucci, who has laid out a roadmap for security vendors and service providers to receive information from DHS on where there are security deficiencies across the spectrum and how those companies can present their solutions for consideration and eventual federal contracts if selected.
Companies like Videology are among five security vendors that have gone through the DHS Science and Technology Directorate SECURE process and received certification to provide solutions in the mass transportation sector. “There was a need and these companies filled it, and did it quickly,” Cellucci said. “When is the last time you saw the federal government develop solutions that came in under budget and came to market in under three months?”

If you have any questions or comments for Steve Lasky regarding this or any other security industry-related issue, please e-mail him at [email protected].