In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, it's not the airport scanners or chemical sensors that have made the biggest difference in making the country safer. It's a change in the way the government does business.
By many accounts, the improvements in technology use by the U.S. government following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have been few, expensive and mostly ineffective. Critics point to airport scanners that travelers hate and that have so far failed to uncover or foil new attacks.
"Most of the innovation that has occurred is in protecting against chemical, biological or radiological attacks," said Ken Rehbehn, principal analyst for the Yankee Group. "But these systems are specialized and are not part of the day-to-day life of the public-safety community. They stand as silent sentinels."
Rehbehn noted that while sensors such as the ones that populate the tops of buildings in Washington, D.C., might help first responders learn the type of attack that took place, they do little to help the critical work that first responders must perform when reacting to an attack.
"The federal government has had trouble keeping up with the rate of change in technology," said Jack Gold, principal analyst at J. Gold Associates. The speed of technology change, he contends, has outpaced the government's ability to react during the acquisition process.
Fortunately, the government procurement process is about to change. For example, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is working to bring technological change to the agency at a rate far faster than the years it might require to develop a technology using traditional procurement processes.
Tom Cellucci, acting director of the DHS Science and Technology Directorate's Research and Development partnership group, said the DHS is now working with private industry to speed development of critical technology items.
"We have found that the private sector is an excellent partner, especially in cyber-security and aviation security," Cellucci told eWEEK. He said his group performs outreach to provide guidance about the unsatisfied needs and wants of DHS.
Wayne Rash is a Senior Analyst for eWEEK Labs and runs the magazine's Washington Bureau. Prior to joining eWEEK as a Senior Writer on wireless technology, he was a Senior Contributing Editor and previously a Senior Analyst in the InfoWorld Test Center. He was also a reviewer for Federal Computer Week and Information Security Magazine. Previously, he ran the reviews and events departments at CMP's InternetWeek.
He is a retired naval officer, a former principal at American Management Systems and a long-time columnist for Byte Magazine. He is a regular contributor to Plane & Pilot Magazine and The Washington Post.