What is the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)?

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

As one of the newest and largest federal agencies, the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) scope covers a myriad of topics, including civil rights and liberties, cybersecurity, immigration, election security, and emergency communications. These types of critical sectors are intertwined within DHS and extend across interagency initiatives with several federal agencies such as the Department of Defense (DOD), Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Department of Justice (DOJ), and Department of Energy (DOE), as well as international partnerships

The diversity of DHS allows for numerous channels to apply for federal government contracts, e.g. directly through DHS, through an inner department, or even by submitting an unsolicited proposal. However, most of DHS spending is on infrastructure and services. Federal government contractors are likely to find an applicable solicitation at DHS due to its wide range.

Purpose, Scope, Organization

Following 9/11, the 2002 Homeland Security Act created DHS and merged it with 19 existing agencies to accomplish several missions:

  • Counter terrorism and homeland security threats
  • Secure U.S. borders and approaches
  • Secure cyberspace and critical infrastructure
  • Preserve and uphold the nation’s prosperity and economic security
  • Strengthen preparedness and resilience
  • Champion the DHS workforce and strengthen the department

Today, DHS is headed by the Secretary of Homeland Security which oversees 15 operational and support requirements.The 3rd largest cabinet department with over 240,000 federal employees, DHS is divided into numerous subgroups and operational/support components, as seen below.

Today, DHS includes at least 12 working and advisory groups: 

  1. Homeland Security Advisor Council (HSAC)
  2. National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee (NCS)
  3. National Advisory Council
  4. Emergency Communications Preparedness Center
  5. Interagency Coordinating Council on Emergency Preparedness and Individuals with Disabilities
  6. Task Force on New Americans
  7. Homeland Security Academic Advisor Council (HSAAC)
  8. DHS Labor-Management Forum
  9. Counter Narcotic Coordinating Council
  10. Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee (DPIAC) 
  11. Federal Partnership for Interoperable Communications
  12. PIV-I/FRAC Technology Transition Working Group

In support of DHS and its evolving mission, the HSAC may recommend certain projects to the Secretary. The U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs (HSGAC) and the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee handle proposed legislation that would fall under DHS jurisdiction.

Recent Projects and Initiatives

The work DHS does manifests itself in a variety of ways since it has diverse goals in protecting the U.S. and its citizens. This means that there are a variety of openings for many types of government contractors looking for work with DHS. The following are recent highlights of projects and initiatives DHS has undertaken:

  • Biometrics. Since 2018, the DHS S&T Directorate has hosted an annual Biometric Technology Rally at the Maryland Test Facility. This event combines experts, vendors, and volunteers across the industry to advance biometric technology. The 2020 rally, which took place during the COVID-19 pandemic, focused on finding a combination of biometric acquisition systems that can accurately identify a person’s face without having to remove the mask. Six similar systems were able to match a person’s photo with a mask to a photo of the same individual without a mask. Fewer people having to take their masks off in public places, such as airports, means travelers and workers are more protected from COVID-19. This biometric technology also has the potential to identify small groups of people simultaneously, speeding up wait times. The 2021 rally, which will take place in the fall, will continue developing this type of individual facial recognition technology. 
  • Ransomware. In 2021, the Institute for Security + Technology (ISR) Ransomware Task Force released a report with recommendations to prevent ransomware attacks. The Ransomware Task Force is made up of DHS and private sector cybersecurity employees from companies such as Microsoft and Global Cyber Alliance. The report totaled 48 recommendations in four categories: deterring attacks, reducing success rates of attacks, preparing for attacks, and reacting to attacks. 
  • Cyber Crime. The Strengthening and Local Cyber Crime Fighting Act of 2017 established a National Computer Forensics Institute (NCFI) within the USSS for FY17-FY22. The institute provides information and training on safe cybersecurity practices to state, local, tribal, and territorial law enforcement, with a specific focus on white-collar crime. The Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security Subcommittee of the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary and the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary collaborated on this bill before it became law in 2017, although it was first introduced by the State of Alabama to the USSS. This act reflects how DHS has been showing an increased interest in funding cybersecurity technology and protection. NCFI is now overseen by the USSS’ Criminal Investigative Division (CID) and the Alabama Office of Prosecution Services and boasts graduate representation in 500 agencies.
  • Border Security. DHS announced in June 2021 that all funds originally meant for constructing a border wall at the U.S. southwest border have been diverted to other projects, such as closing breaches to the Rio Grande Valley Levee System and remediating soil erosion in San Diego. These will likely result in future contract opportunities as plans finalize.
  • Cybersecurity. CISA was established within DHS in 2018. Its purpose is to understand and address threats to U.S. critical infrastructure, both digitally and physically, by coordinating resilience efforts across public and private sectors. Cybersecurity has become a priority for DHS, and CISA may receive $397.4M as a result of a proposed bill to increase DHS funding overall. Like DHS, CISA wears many hats: cybersecurity, infrastructure security, emergency communications, and national risk management. Inspecting chemical facilities, securing the election, and providing emergency communications systems for first responders are among some of CISA’s accomplishments in 2020
  • Terrorism. DHS is responsible for the National Terrorism Advisory System (NTAS), which releases information about terrorist threats and tips to inform and protect the American public. NTAS replaced the Homeland Security Advisory System in 2011 to be more effective in disseminating necessary and time-sensitive information.

Procurement and Acquisition

Today there are ten internal contracting activities with authority to procure products and services within and across DHS’s components (the dark blue boxes in the diagram below). In addition to DHS’ internal procurement functions, federal contracts can be secured through GSA, DOD, USDA, DOJ, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and Department of Interior (DOI). The following organizational chart shows how procurement and acquisition activity flows within DHS.

DHS applies various contracting/funding mechanisms through a variety of ways using Strategic Sourcing, Government-wide Agency Contract (GWAC), Multi-Agency Contracts (MACs), GSA Schedules (GSA FSS), Open Market (i.e., sam.gov), Other Transaction Authority (OTA), Unsolicited Proposals, and Commercial Solutions Opening (CSO) Pilot Programs.

A note to any federal government contractor considering pursuing a DHS contract: watch out for the additional policies in the Homeland Security
Acquisition Regulation (
HSAR), the DHS version of the FAR. Additionally, be aware of solicitations or contracts that include the special clauses Safeguarding of Sensitive Information or Information Technology Security and Privacy Training, as they require specific training and security measures.

Spending Trends

From FY13 to FY18, DHS annual service contract obligations have increased by 40%. There has also been an average increase of 8% in total federal contract/IDV obligations year-over-year. Meanwhile, FEMA, an outlier, saw a 196% increase. From FY17 to Present Day, DHS spending on services (e.g. security guard services or technology support) represents over 75% of its annual contract obligations. The graph below shows how spending has changed within DHS agencies from FY15 to FY20.

Top PSC Obligations FY15-FY20:

  1. S206 (Housekeeping – Guard): $11B
  2. D399 (IT and Telecom): $6B
  3. R408 (Support – Program Management): $4.6B
  4. 7030 (IT Software): $4B
  5. D318 (IT and Telecom): $3B

Top NAICS Obligations FY15-FY20:

  1. 561512 (Security Guards and Patrol Services) :$10B
  2. 541519 (Other Computer Related Services): $7.4B
  3. 541512 (Computer Systems Design Services): $7B
  4. 541330 (Engineering Services): $7B
  5. 336611 (Ship Building and Repairing): $6B

Top Contractors for FY17-FY20:

  • Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc
  • Paragon Systems Inc.
  • Bollinger Shipyards Lockport
  • The GEO Group Inc.
  • CH2M Hill
  • Unisys Corporation
  • Deloitte
  • Eastern Shipbuilding Group
  • Accenture Federal Services

Recent Procurement Projects and Initiatives

The following are several contracts DHS awarded in 2020 and 2021. These initiatives show how broad DHS activity is and that there are opportunities for all types of government contractors. 

  • Indy 500. Each year, DHS coordinates with local and federal law enforcement agencies to provide security for the Indianapolis 500, which has a Special Event Assessment Rating (SEAR) of 2, meaning it may require government support. Throughout this long-term partnership, DHS has promoted its “If You See Something, Say Something” campaign. 
  • Search and Rescue Optimal Planning Systems (SAROPS).  In May 2021, USCG contracted the Environmental Systems Research Institute to provide environmental data server subscriptions and ArcGIS licenses to support the SAROPS for the country of Malaysia. Valued at $137K, this project is intended to assist in search and rescue missions. 
  • Cybersecurity Improvements. CISA is working with the White House, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and National Security Agency (NSA) to transition DHS from relying on passwords and multi-factor authentication to identify federation with cloud and on-site systems. This “zero-trust” security system acts as if the information has already been compromised and is constantly scanning for threats, as opposed to a one-time check at a login web page. DHS wants to limit the number of involved public companies so progress moves quickly but is evolved securely. 
  • Human Capital Evolution. DHS is in the early stages of looking for a vendor to design the new Strategic Cybersecurity Compensation System to attract and retain top cybersecurity developers.
  • Biometric Database Transition. DHS has contracted Amazon and Northrop Grumman to transition all DHS biometric databases and apps to a cloud-based system called the Homeland Advanced Recognition Technology (HART) system. The original system, the Automated Biometric Identification System (IDENT), has been used since 1944. HART has the potential to store immensely more data than IDENT, but its cost has risen to $4.3B as a result of it being three years behind schedule. The switch is now expected to begin in late 2021 and finish in 2024, eventually expanding to its partner agencies, such as DOJ.
  • ICE Transportation. In 2020, ICE contracted MVM Inc. to efficiently and safely transport unaccompanied alien children and family units to the Office of Refugee Resettlement shelters and Family Residential Centers. This DHS Unarmed Escort and Transportation Services for Unaccompanied Alien Children and Family Units contract is worth $743.5M.
  • Fighting Disinformation. In July 2020, the DHS Office of Intelligence and Cyber Mission Center contracted Thundercat Technology, LLC for $1.7M to identify foreign actors trying to influence the election on social media, specifically Russia, China, and Iran. This contract lasts for one year and has the option to be extended for two more. DHS used custom algorithms, analytics, and commercial services to identify and disprove disinformation and provided recommendations for the public to do so as well. 

DHS in 2022 and Beyond

The Biden Administration, DHS, and the Government Accountability Organization (GAO) all have projects and initiatives they’d like DHS to focus on in FY22 and beyond. Many of these areas overlap, but it is important for government contractors to understand the goals and influence of the federal government as a whole when working with DHS. 

  • The Biden Administration is focused on border security, re-imagining the immigration system, cybersecurity, domestic terrorism response, climate change, research and development capacity, and civil rights and civil liberties protections. These are more general goals compared to DHS and GAO.
  • The DHS is focused on predictive analytics, cloud, cybercrime investigative capabilities, staff development, task force modernization, 5G networks, industrial control system, software assurance, supply chain security, emerging technologies, and next-generation networks. These focus areas are more tailored to the needs and mission of DHS.
  • The GAO is focused on acquisition fraud, duplicative mission support contracts, employee morale, improving component acquisition, oversight, cybersecurity, agile software development, processes for apprehended family members, and addressing challenges to ensuring equal employment opportunity in its workforce and assessing racial and gender disparities.

Looking forward to 2022 and beyond, DHS is planning to invest in new technologies ranging from aircraft sensors to health and medical services/technologies. DHS is expected to prioritize effective and modern border security, a humane and efficient immigration system, improved federal cybersecurity across the government, domestic terrorism, climate change and other disaster challenges, research, and development capacity, and civil rights and civil liberties protections. Many of these improvements will be technology-based as DHS is adopting a more digital approach to protecting the U.S.

Researched and authored by Haley Boulanger, Pulse Analyst.

More From The Pulse