Last week the Science and Technology Directorate held another session in its series of Stakeholders’ Conference here in Washington DC. The attendance appeared to be down from last year’s event, although there was a lot of “meat” to digest by those who attended the conference. One of the most significant things to come out of the conference is the new S&T High Priority Technology Needs booklet.

Almost from the beginning of his tenure, Under Secretary Jay Cohen has insisted that this technology needs list be made public for his customers (DHS components, other government agencies, first responders, etc.) and their customers and vendors to know what technology gaps his directorate will be working to fill. Cohen is to be commended for doing this – when DHS first opened its doors, a listing of this sort would most likely have been kept under wraps, if not classified outright. Admiral Cohen is right, in my opinion. Publicizing the technology needs list is not going to educate people who want to do “bad things” or make them more aware of our vulnerabilities. A list of this nature provides focus and transparency into what S&T is doing. Congress and the American public can have confidence in this type system, and S&T is to be congratulated for publicizing its “wish list.”

What was also interesting is what was conspicuously absent from this listing of needs – and that is a reference to technologies that will help us build in greater resiliency. In fact, I could only find the word used once and that was in the section by the Infrastructure & Geophysical Division (thank you Chris Doyle) where it was mentioned as a desired outcome of improved monitoring and surveillance technologies. The report uses the word “recovery” several times, but in light of the House Homeland Security Committee’s recent month long series of hearings on the topic, I am surprised that “resiliency” was not more prominent.

While many of the S&T speakers talked about the need to respond and recover from a catastrophic incident (whether terrorist generated or from weather-related causes), the virtual absence of placing resilient technologies on the High Priority Needs list sends the message that resiliency is just not a big concern of the DHS component agencies. No one who understands DHS would believe that these agencies are fully prepared to respond and recover from a tragic incident should (or perhaps, when) it occurs.

Nor did Secretary Chertoff mention anything about resiliency or recovery in his opening remarks. In fact, having heard the Secretary speak twice this week (the other time was on the new Electronic System for Travel Authorization), it seems like he is a lot more comfortable talking about the past than articulating a vision for the future.

While there is much to be proud of during his tenure as Secretary, now is the time for him to talk about the transition to a new administration and what a DHS-of-the-future should look like. Secretary Chertoff is a man of universally admired intellect and laser-like focus. Perhaps he could even embrace the essence of science and technology, which is building a better future by solving the problems of the past. He is very good at telling us where we have been and what DHS has done. What I would like to hear is where we need to be and what we must do to get there.

David Olive focuses his blogging primarily on the “business of homeland security” — the interaction of the private sector with the Department of Homeland Security and other national security agencies. Read More