On the 18th birthday of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T), I’d like to take a moment to reflect upon where we have been, where we are, and where we are going. The homeland security landscape may look a bit different in 2021 than it did in 2003, but our commitment to meeting the pressing challenges of today and tomorrow hasn’t wavered.
S&T, along with the rest of DHS, was founded in the aftermath of 9/11, and safeguarding our nation from acts of terrorism, was, and still is, a significant priority. Some things just don’t change. We have some team members who have been with us since the beginning, and we asked them what made them stick around for so long. Some common themes:
One AMAZING mission that makes a difference—for DHS and the nation: We apply the latest science and innovation approaches to deliver technology solutions and bridge capability gaps.
Finding solutions for those diverse homeland security needs: From first responder protective gear, enhanced communication tools, cutting-edge DNA analysis technology, and urban search and rescue breakthroughs to ending child exploitation to leveraging environmental science to end a pandemic, over the years S&T has been at the forefront of it all.
A wealth of dedicated and talented people: Sometimes the hours are long, but the work is rewarding and never boring. We really do have a team of consummate professionals who continue to enjoy a sense of pride in all that they, and S&T accomplish. We wouldn’t be where we are without them.
Over the past 18 years, S&T has grown into its current role as the science advisor and research and development arm of DHS and by extension, the Homeland Security Enterprise. It has been my privilege to lead S&T as it has recently undertaken a huge initiative to focus and refine our mission. To bring new expertise and rigor to solving the problems of today and tomorrow, and indeed, to anticipate the answers to questions we’ve only just started to ask. We know innovation does not flow in a straight line, but it grows on a solid foundation of science and research. S&T’s expertise spans Centers of Excellence, National Labs, first responders, and nationwide stakeholders from government and industry.
We must continue breaking down barriers within government and between government, academia and industry to combine resources and solve big problems with broad solutions. We can go farther, faster, and more efficiently if we work together. Our current whole-of-government approaches to safeguarding public transit, air domain awareness, and public health security are examples of how S&T is making the pivot to address national-scale challenges of “Building Back Better” and moving the country forward again. Our ability to serve as a catalyst and accelerate solutions reflects our agility to mobilize innovation research teams across disciplines and time zones.
Change and disruption may in some ways become the new normal, and that means that we must let go of our dependence on old business models, and obsolete paradigms. Change can bring uncertainty, but it can also bring solutions. New problems emerge as we solve old, “unsolvable” problems. The future requires innovation, collaboration, and commitment to the search for answers through science, and S&T is leading the way forward.
Though I wasn’t with S&T in the early days, I now have the great fortune to help navigate the Directorate through many more milestones on the horizon.
Happy Birthday, S&T!