DHS, DOJ Focus on Modernizing IT, Data Analytics, and the Mobile Future

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The U.S. Marshals Service, which operates within the Department of Justice, is facing the same problems as many of its fellow Federal agencies—recruiting new people, training existing employees, and modernizing IT.

GAO reports, such as one issued last May revealing that the Federal government spends about $60 billion a year on maintaining outdated technology, have spurred modernization efforts at several agencies, including USMS. William Snelson, associate director of operations at USMS, said that the struggle to move away from legacy IT is compounded by the obligation to support existing systems.

“Newer people are fairly tech savvy,” Snelson said in an exclusive conversation with MeriTalk. “The sad part is we’re paying for the old system at the same time we’re building the new one.”

Snelson, who spoke at the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association’s Law Enforcement and Public Safety Technology Forum on May 10, said that making Federal employees as technologically fluent as adversaries is the only way to stay ahead of bad actors.

The user experience—from mobile applications to accessible data—needed to be improved, Snelson said.

“Fugitives are using technology to avoid capture and using it faster than we can catch up,” Snelson said. “Our systems are as old as a lot of agencies. The challenge we have is getting data to field people in a manner that they can use it.”

The Department of Homeland Security, in addition to DOJ, is working to help its employees with more user-friendly technology, including mobile applications. Daniel Tanciar, deputy executive director of policy, program analysis, and evaluation for Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Field Evaluation, said DHS is developing a mobile passport tool.

The agency has also worked with Palantir Technologies to create two mobile apps, according to Daniel Ragsdale, deputy director for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“Facilities don’t change very quickly. Mobile is the way we’re going,” Tanciar said. “The challenge is connectivity. That would be an industry challenge I’d set out for everyone. I see our mission becoming more and more challenging.”

DHS, like many other Federal agencies, oversees vast reams of data. The biographic data of U.S. citizens, such as birthdays, addresses, and facial recognition images, constitute some of the information DHS manages.

CBP presides over 328 ports of entry and processes more than 1 million travelers a day. Tanciar said that DHS benefits from data analytics when deriving potential threats this information may reveal. He and his team examine intelligence and trends to develop rules for handling certain threats.

“We have to rely on technology to meet our mission. Manpower isn’t going to be the solution. Analytics are a key part of our strategy,” Tanciar said. “They have to be right once. We have to be right every time.”

Sharing data, in addition to analyzing it, is also a chief priority for DHS and DOJ. On March 31, DOJ’s Office of Inspector General published a report stating that the partners in the Information Sharing Environment, namely components of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, DHS, and DOJ, need to establish consistent rules for sharing information.

Tanciar said that one information sharing technique DHS benefits from is drawing from information that has already been recorded rather than collecting it anew.

“Think of how many times you provide biographic data,” Tanciar said. “The list is endless.”

DHS’s IT efforts may pick up in the near future. President Donald Trump’s proposed budget tilts heavily toward homeland security. In the budget blueprint issued March 16, DHS, one of three agencies to receive an increase in funding, was allotted $44 billion. Ragsdale said this boost in funding will be directed to increased operations.

“It’s our biggest budget ever,” Ragsdale said. “Operational tempo is always 10/10. Operations are supposed to increase.”

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