Strauss Center News

Updates from the Strauss Center and our affiliated distinguished scholars and fellows


Rohrbaugh on Technology Innovation within DHS

May 4, 2020 |

Benjamin Rohrbaugh, Fellow in the Central America and Mexico Policy Initiative at the Strauss Center, co-authored a report for the Belfer Center at Harvard Kennedy School titled Closing Critical Gaps that Hinder Homeland Security Technology Innovation. COVID-19 has overwhelmed the response systems of the United States and clearly shown the scale of the federal government’s underinvestment in public safety technology.Malicious actors—nonstate actors and state proxies, terrorist groups, and transnational criminal organizations—are also taking advantage of rapid technological advances to become more capable. As the US government’s primary civilian public safety agency, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will need to find new ways to counter these threats and others posed by natural disasters and emerging diseases. However, DHS has a poor record in developing new technological solutions to advance its mission.

Rohrbaugh and his coauthor, Nate Bruggeman, explain and provide data that there is no set of processes situated in an established structure to fund and match private sector solutions and technological innovation against critical homeland security problems. DHS also lacks the ability to effectively identify and directly fund lines of research to address its operators’ needs. These industry partnership processes are so unpredictable and constricted that they disincentivize startups from working with the agency. Acquisitions deficiencies, DHS’ human centric approach, and internal structures also fail to foster an effective innovation ecosystem and culture. The agency’s R&D funding is also one of the lowest when compared to other large governmental agencies.

The authors end with five recommendations on how the agency can more effectively partner with industry and how new technologies can be quickly seeded in order to keep pace with the threat environment.