DHS Wants to Offer Alternative Contracts to Silicon Valley Startups

Cienpies Design/shutterstock.com

Traditional procurement takes too long for the new Silicon Valley office, a new DHS notice says.

The Department of Homeland Security wants to make it easier for startups to build new technology for the federal government.

DHS has sketched out a multiphase contracting model -- taking technology concepts from prototypes to field testing -- that narrows down the number of contractors each round. Phases last between three and six months, and DHS would award between $50,000 and $200,000 for development in each phase . 

As part of a new "innovation program" coming out of DHS' Silicon Valley office, potential vendors would submit written applications in response to research challenges. Selected vendors would pitch their solution either in person or via video conference to DHS panels, who would evaluate the idea, according to a new notice on FedBizOpps.

DHS evaluation panels would make 20 funding recommendations for each research topic, which includes securing the Internet of Things, aviation and drone security, combating biological threats and first responder tech, among others. 

The program aims to take no longer than 30 days to award funding after notifying a vendor their idea was selected, the notice said. 

This approach, called "Other Transactions" to distinguish it from the traditional acquisition process, would let federal agencies "implement faster and streamlined methods and don’t carry all the requirements of procurement contracts," the notice stated. DHS estimates about $20 million in total funding over the next five years for the program. 

Here's how the four phases work:

  • Prototype development: Applicants create an initial functioning prototype that addresses at least some part of the DHS challenge.
  • Further prototype development: DHS narrows down the applicant pool, offering additional funding to potential vendors to build out the initial prototype, focusing on "operational and commercial viability."
  • Pilot testing: DHS narrows applicants further, providing more funding to vendors who can introduce prototypes into a pilot environment and "experiment against real conditions."
  • Operational testing and evaluation: In a last, optional phase, vendors would scale up the prototypes, potentially licensing out the technology to test in more scenarios and conditions. 

Over the past year, the department has been trying to tap into Silicon Valley's concentration of technology talent, announcing in April its plans to open an outpost there. The Defense Department has been making similar efforts, opening its own Silicon Valley office and creating a partnership with universities and businesses to study flexible electronics

DHS did not respond to Nextgov's request for comment. 

(Image via /Shutterstock.com)