Immigration and Customs Enforcement

It’s been a little more than a year since Admiral Thad Allen (USCG-Ret.) joined Booz Allen Hamilton as a senior vice president after a storied career with the U.S. Coast Guard, and serving as National Incident Commander for the Department of Homeland Security in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.

Breaking Gov contributor Dan Verton sat down with Allen to discuss the importance of innovation and the challenges frontline federal government managers face when trying to implement new innovations. He also discussed some of the priorities for the future of homeland security outlined recently by Booz Allen Hamilton, on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the creation of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Breaking Gov: How important is the concept and practice of innovation to the Department of Homeland Security as we look toward the next 10 years of the homeland security mission?

Adm. Thad Allen: I don’t think there’s any doubt that innovation has been the key to the success of this country since our revolution. The ability to innovate, create new things and bring them to market progress the country along.

I think the real issue is how do you enable innovation in a government department or across the government? How quickly can you recognize technologies and bring them to bear on the problems you’re dealing with?

We have a whole host of regulations and federal acquisition regulations. We’re concerned about who we sell business to in the federal government. There are groups that we want to help and encourage, such as small business and the middle class. We need to figure out a better way to identify innovative capabilities that we can bring to bear in the homeland security area.

I don’t think right now the current acquisition procedures or requirements development procedures are mature to the point where we can move as rapidly as we need to.

Is it just the acquisition side of the equation, or is it the federal culture that does not encourage innovation from frontline managers?

Allen: The whole notion of innovation is a challenge across the government. What you have is a set of regulatory requirements that take time [and] they’re difficult to work through for new and challenging technologies. And then there’s a question of whether or not the people in government are technically qualified to understand those new technologies.

I think there’s a dual challenge. One is a process challenge. How do we make the process simpler? But there’s a content challenge. If you don’t understand the technology regarding cloud analytics [as an example] or what a cloud reference architecture can do, or what high performance computing can do, then you don’t make real good decisions about the acquisition of technology or make policy and budget decisions that enable that.

Are efforts such as the FedRAMP process helping agencies to innovate and adopt new technologies?

Allen: In the current budget environment, we can’t afford to have multiple stovepipe systems, multiple licensing fees, and multiple costs for software platforms. The downward force on funding is going to force the integration of software and data sets.

Then, once you get them in one place, it’s easier to make a fundamental change in how you actually manage the data. It’s something we’re going to have to do and it’s going to be required for mission execution.

More importantly, I don’t think we can operate the systems we’re operating right now and stovepipe them in proprietary systems in the current budget environment.

Our theory is, it takes a network to defeat a network.”

How do you see future of Homeland Security changing?

Allen: I believe terrorism is nothing more than political criminality; so you’re really dealing with a criminal organizations involved in criminal activity. The things all criminal organizations need to succeed is …they need to have a source of financing, they have to talk, they have to move, and they have to spend money to be successful. That is a network.

When you look at our law enforcement organizational structure and how we deal with terrorism, we tend to focus particular threat streams on particular agencies, and that’s how we employ them, like the Drug Enforcement Administration; (the Bureau of) Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; the US Secret Service; Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Our theory is, it that takes a network to defeat a network. And if we’re going to do that properly, we’re going to have to break down the walls between those jurisdictions, particularly with regards to how we share information.

Read more from Thad Allen in an op-ed he wrote for Breaking Gov last year on the importance of separating the value of public service from the politics.

Tax evasion or illegal drug smuggling are often not observable events for federal law enforcement officials. But to effectively manage federal law enforcement activities, officials and policy-makers in charge must have an idea of what is happening.

The challenge of how to measure the unobserved events is one faced by many federal leaders. But there are actually five methods that can assist government performance analysts in estimating basic information on unobserved events.
This article originally appeared as part of a new report from the IBM Center for the Business of Government, “Five Methods for Measuring Unobserved Events: A Case Study of Federal Law Enforcement,” by John Whitley.


The Need for a Statistical Framework

Law enforcement can face tough measurement challenges, but the fields of statistics and econometrics have developed a framework for dealing with them and it is useful to begin this part with a brief overview of that framework. All violations of a federal law can be thought of as elements of a prospective data population.

The scope of the population can be defined in various ways — e.g., immigrants illegally entering the United States in a calendar year, or the illegal drugs smuggled across the southwest land border between the United States and Mexico.

To effectively manage their operations, federal law enforcement officials need insight into these unobserved violations; i.e., they need to know the properties or parameters of this population of data, such as its size and distribution

Law enforcement officials are generally able to observe subsets, or samples, of this population. The most obvious is the subset of violators apprehended or arrested. Detailed documentation of apprehensions or arrests is generally retained in administrative records. In addition, there may be other available sources of data, often partial and incomplete, that shed light on various aspects of the population, e.g., survey data on drug usage or the footprints in the desert of illegal border-crossers.

Actions can also be taken to increase the available data, such as increasing the size of the observable subset, drawing additional samples from the population, or generating a sample of new data that mimics the characteristics of the population of interest. The methods described here use such samples to make estimates of the total population.

When using a sample to estimate parameters of the underlying (unobserved) population, an important statistical property is whether the estimate is biased. Bias occurs when the estimate systematically diverges from the true value of the population parameter being estimated.

An unbiased and therefore preferred estimate does not systematically diverge from the true value. One primary cause of bias is a poor sample that is not randomly selected. A sample is random when every element of the population has an equal probability of being included. Examples of non-random samples may include:

Keep reading →

UPDATED. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency announced it plans to buy iPhone services for more than 17,600 employees.

According to an Oct. 17 solicitation notice posted on FedBizOpps, a government procurement site, the immigration and customs division of the Department of Homeland Security is planning to buy Apple iPhone devices that are bundled into monthly plans for cellular phone service, Internet access for domestic and international coverage, and text messaging capabilities. Keep reading →

Proposed increases in federal technology spending aren’t just for back office operations; they’re also expected to help the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency track down illegal immigrants, weed out illegal job applicants and intercept would be terrorists.

Those are just some of the places where hikes in information technology spending in President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2013 budget would be directed, if approved by Congress. Keep reading →