Homeland Security Wants Employees to Beef Up Quant Skills

Mark J. Terrill/AP File Photo

Analysts at FEMA, TSA and other DHS agencies might soon be required to take data courses.

The Department of Homeland wants to turn its analysts into big data experts. 

DHS is hoping to pilot a new curriculum for its employees, emphasizing quantitative skills such as economic analysis, statistics, data visualization and big data analytics.

Earlier this week, DHS posted a solicitation asking universities and other groups to submit ideas for such a curriculum, eventually to be piloted in DHS agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Transportation Security Administration . 

The goal is to train analysts to do their own cost analysis, risk assessment and statistics, among other tasks, instead of relying on the "fairly small set of people at DHS, given the size of the workforce, that are specialized in these areas," DHS' director of University Programs, Matt Clark, told Nextgov. The University Program taps universities and colleges for academic expertise that could aid homeland security. 

Clark said anywhere from dozens to hundreds of analysts could participate in the training.

DHS is looking for contractors -- potentially a university or a private company, Clark said -- to draft a training course that could teach federal analysts these quantitative skills. Clark said DHS is considering various methods of learning and course-lengths, including web-based classes, simulations, seminars and lectures. 

With proper training, Clark said, "an analyst can walk in and give [a report] to the commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, and say, 'This is what the data are telling us.'"

Today, he added, "they're getting asked constantly to do this stuff," but aren't usually trained to do so, especially when dealing with potently sensitive or personally identifiable information. And because hiring more quantitative specialists is a challenge, "if we can't buy them, we'll build them."

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