Today, DHS released its Fact Sheet: DHS End-of-Year Accomplishments for 2008. It is a very impressive list of DHS achievements in five areas: protecting the nation from dangerous people; protecting the nation from dangerous goods; securing the nation’s critical infrastructure; strengthening emergency preparedness and response capabilities; and unifying department operations and management. There is at least one thing missing from the extensive list, and it cuts across all five areas, for which DHS deserves tremendous credit: the SAFETY Act.
Those of you familiar with the SAFETY Act can skip this paragraph. For everyone else, the Support Anti-terrorism by Fostering Effective Technologies (SAFETY) Act of 2002 was created by the US Congress as part of the Homeland Security Bill of 2002 that established DHS. They created it in order to encourage the development and deployment of anti-terrorism technologies, products and services by removing the liability concerns that businesses face when putting anti-terrorism technologies into the homeland security marketplace. The United States has a well-deserved reputation as a litigious society, which can be a rude wake-up call for those unfamiliar with the American tort system. The benefits afforded by the SAFETY Act protect not only the enterprise, the “Seller”, but also its suppliers, distributors and customers, thus creating a valuable market advantage over competitors that do not have SAFETY Act protections. (For more details look here or here.)
When Sec. Chertoff took over DHS in March 2005, the SAFETY Act was not considered a success by many in the homeland security arena. After two years of operation (2003-2005), only a dozen or so SAFETY Act approvals had been granted. Thanks to the leadership of Sec. Chertoff, DHS S&T’s Directorate and its Under Secretary Jay Cohen, the General Counsel’s Office, the Private Sector Office the Office of SAFETY Act Implementation (OSAI), the US Chamber and other business groups, a new Rule, application and other improvements were put into place in 2006. The results speak for themselves.
Today, approximately 250 products and services that have a role in counter terrorism have been Designated, and in some cases Certified, under the SAFETY Act. These “technologies” are protecting the nation from dangerous people and goods, securing critical infrastructure, and strengthening response capabilities and readiness. Most, if not all, of these technologies would not have been developed or deployed to the extent that they are without the liability protections that the SAFETY Act provides.
An additional metric of the SAFETY Act’s success is the recent announcement from the US Office of Management and Budget (OMB) when it evaluated the Office of SAFETY Act Implementation (OSAI) using its Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART), scoring it as ‘Effective’, the highest rating a program can achieve. According to OMB, programs rated “Effective” set ambitious goals, achieve results, are well-managed and improve efficiency. OSAI was one of only 10 programs in DHS to receive a score of Effective (61 DHS programs were evaluated). This complements another honor OSAI recently received (in late 2007): the Secretary’s Award for Team Excellence.
In terms of the fifth focus area, – unifying department operations – OSAI has continued to educate procurement offices across Government about the Pre-Procurement Qualification Request (PPQR) process. A PPQR can be submitted by a procuring agency (e.g., TSA or DNDO) so that a decision about SAFETY Act applicability can be made prior to a solicitation. As part of a PPQR “approval”, OSAI will streamline the SAFETY Act application by eliminating redundant evaluations that would exist between the procuring agency and OSAI. The PPQR process is a win-win-win for the procuring agency, OSAI and the applicants (and thus the taxpayers!).
While there is still work to be done to advance the SAFETY Act, primarily that more DHS components and other USG departments and agencies take advantage of the PPQR process and incorporate it into procurements, there is much for Sec. Chertoff and DHS to celebrate. They have developed and refined a tool that has the interests of every American at its heart – preventing terrorism and protecting the homeland.