As any parent of school age children can attest, homework is not just a challenge for your child, it’s a challenge for the parent as well. After going through multiplication tables, the science homework or the English report for the 15th time, the question undoubtedly comes out of your child’s mouth as a tired, frustrated whine, “Why do I need to know this stuff?”

Any parent who has experienced this situation will often retort in some fashion, “So you know how to do this stuff later in life! Now get back to work!”

A recently released Congressional Research Service makes me wonder whether these folks do any homework at all.

The report (“DHS Directorate of Science & Technology: Key Issues for Congress”) expresses concern over the ability of businesses, researchers and entrepreneurs to access S&T leaders; the effectiveness of the Directorate’s relationships with others; how they define priorities from their customers and a laundry list of other items.

All of these are legitimate areas for Congressional oversight, but can they really be labeled as a cause for concern? You’re kidding me right? If there is any component of DHS that is readily open, accessible and clear on its priorities and the others identified in the CRS Report, it’s DHS’ S&T shop.

Somewhere at DHS Headquarters there has to be a tally board for public appearances and delivered remarks by the Department’s leadership. If that board really exists, S&T’s Under Secretary Jay Cohen has got to be at the top of the list. Whether addressing small or large gatherings in Washington or in other cities in the US or around the world, U/S Cohen from Day ONE has clearly identified what his priorities are; how his shop does business; who they work with; what avenues are available for entrepreneurs, inventors and businesses to explore and so forth. He’s not alone in doing that either.

On multiple occasions, Cohen has packed up his senior staff up and traveled around the country and the world to deliver that information in person to anyone who wants to listen. In December 2007, he went to London to address international researchers and technology developers. Just last month, he traveled to Los Angeles in an effort to focus on the needs of first responders. He has also hosted a national stakeholders conference in May 2007 (with another scheduled for June 2008) to showcase his Directorate’s agenda and explain how others can help him and the S&T Team advance the homeland’s critical R&D needs.

During all of these appearances, attendees are able to sign up to sit down with S&T leaders and staff in individual research areas to share their research or discuss how they could work together.

The real cause for concern is that other DHS directorates and components don’t emulate S&T’s approach.

As to being clear on the priorities of the Directorate and the needs of his ‘customers,’ I don’t know how much clearer U/S Cohen could be on articulating on what those are without administering individualized tattoos of his talking point and PowerPoint charts to every person in the room who hears him speak. [In case you want a tattoo of that top priority list it should say: “1. Cyber, 2. IEDs, 3. Interoperability.” The color of the ‘ink’ is up to you.]

It is painfully obvious that the people behind this report were one of the following:

Far too lazy to get out from behind their desks to go hear him speak (which is amazing because it seems U/S Cohen has been everywhere at least twice in his year and a half in office and would probably show up at your desk and talk if you invited him);

They didn’t take notes on what he said; or

They didn’t attend one of the hundreds of open-to-the-public conferences or R&D meetings that he and his staff have participated.

Instead, it appears they got the S&T shop confused with some other portion of DHS that doesn’t engage in any outreach at all and fails to define their customers, priorities and mission assignments.
Or maybe they just didn’t do their homework.

Rich Cooper blogs primarily on emergency preparedness and response, management issues related to the Department of Homeland Security, and the private sector’s role in homeland security. Read More