Deputy CIO: DHS Trying to Coax Silicon Valley Startups into Federal Contracting

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson Andrew Harnik/AP

The procurement cycle can be prohibitive for startups, Margie Graves said, so DHS wants them to participate in more pilot projects.

The Department of Homeland Security is looking into new ways to collaborate with tech startups -- inviting them to work on pilot projects and other processes that don't require them to go through the official contracting process, Deputy Chief Information Officer Margie Graves said Monday. 

“Talking with venture capital firms and some of the smaller firms ... You recognize the kind of funding cycle that goes into these smaller companies that are trying to initiate their first product -- and the fact that most of that funding has a time limit and expectations with a [return on investment] attached to it that is very strict," Graves said during the Executive Leadership Conference in Williamsburg, Virginia, organized by ACT-IAC, a nonprofit tech trade group with government partners. 

"It's almost prohibitive for them to be able to take any of that funding and apply it to machinery that might actually work in the regular procurement cycle within the federal government, to be able to hire people who know how to navigate that," she added. 

Graves said the department is trying to get startups to engage with the federal government before they begin the lengthy procurement process, either by participating in competitions, demonstrating prototypes or signing on for pilots. 

Afterward, she said, the department is working out, "how do we get you mentored and paired with those who have been there before you and able to offer advice."

In April, DHS announced it was opening up an outpost in the Silicon Valley region, a move Secretary Jeh Johnson described as an attempt to strengthen relationships with and potentially recruit contacts in that area.