Comparing Canada/U.S. Involvement with Industry
Dec 15, 2006

Few would argue that 9/11 changed the world in fundamental ways. The impact in Canada was almost as profound as in the U.S. and the response by governments here and south of here was laudable – lots of scurrying round with new anti-terrorism committees, intergovernmental talks, and cross ­border treaties.

The governmental good will has not translated well into concrete action on the part of the Canadian Government department in charge of our collective safety and security – Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada (PSEPC). But no one is to blame because even for our Big Brother institution, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the road to effective and efficient domestic security has been, and con­tinues to be, a long, arduous, bureau­cratic journey of amalgamations and restructurings.

Having recently returned to Ottawa from a year-long assignment in Washington, D.C., I have noted that the U.S. is far ahead of Canada in openly engaging a vital resource in the pursuit of national safety and security – Industry. Industry plays a much more important role in the development of U.S. resiliency to catastrophic events than Canada. While one can argue that the awarding of industry contracts within DHS is fraught with its own procurement process challenges, mostly related to slippages and cancellations, at least there is activity.

If you look today in Merx (could be any day, likely), the Canadian Govern­ment’s exclusive pipeline to industrial contractors, there is a single listed procurement by PSEPC. And, this listing is simply a notification that a critically important series of infrastructure interdependency exercises to test our nation’s resiliency to disasters has been withdrawn and will be replaced by a much reduced program both in terms of ­geographical scope and dollars available to the winning bidder (should the revised procurement ever be re-issued).

By contrast, the DHS currently has hundreds open and active procure­ments for the U.S. industrial base to compete. This picture presents quite a contrast, even given normal order-of-magnitude comparisons between Canada and the U.S.

Perhaps the answer to the discrepancy lies in the budget differentials? In the U.S., DHS has a current budget of between $45 and $50 billion annually. This is the total budget that covers operating and capital spending requirements, including funding the establishment of Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDC). These tend to be large, very specialized facilities for specific Homeland Security projects such as testing labs for biological threats. In Canada, the annual budget for national security is, according to the 2006 figures, $1.4 billion, spread over two years.

So far, very little of even this paltry amount is flowing to Canadian industry – especially technology-based industry – to assist in the challenge of domestic security. Very recently, Garda renewed its contract with the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) to provide security screening personnel at the nation’s airports. Smarter money would have spent the annual $100 million that goes to Garda on technology solutions that could replace the human, and flawed screening function in passenger terminals.

Accessibility Lacking
For the Canadian high tech industry, which should be providing PSEPC with integrated solutions for national security, it is imperative that PSEPC make its leadership available to industry leaders to provide guidance and internal R&D direction that will result in the development of world-class products and systems for domestic security. In the U.S., access to DHS leaders by industry players is just part of the dance. Whether it be “Industry Days” sponsored by DHS, organized association briefings, or the traditional sales call methodology, the program and portfolio managers within DHS are constantly in view of the contractors. They use these interactions to provide feedback on upcoming procurements as well as to get new ideas on homeland security solutions that are then turned into competitive procurements.

More specifically, DHS will, from time to time, issue Broad Area Announce­ments (BAA) that are designed to elicit industry feedback on what capabilities are extant in the commercial world that would be useful to the Government. On the basis of the BAA results, the DHS prepares a full and open RFP. Companies in the U.S. are also encouraged to submit unsolicited proposals and “white papers” that reflect leading edge thinking in ­industry. These often result in full blown procurements.

Again, in contrast, the Canadian national security authorities within PSEPC and its agencies do not encourage communication with industry players. In fact, at least in the previous Federal Govern­ment (and no evidence exists to suggest things have changed much), “there is no mechanism for taking in unsolicited proposals from industry.” This statement was made in a letter to me by the former Deputy Minister of PSEPC. Also, in one of the key PSEPC agencies, a Crown Corporation, while the President was referring industry members to the V.P. in charge of technical innovation, that V.P. level executive made it very clear to everyone who attempts to set up a capabilities briefing meeting that she would NOT meet with industry representatives.

And don’t think that because you have reached a senior level in your organization that this will make any difference …. it won’t!

The clever marketer will always find ways around the senior bureaucrat’s screening process. So, a peek at upcoming conferences and symposia where the country’s national security status and plans are being discussed should provide an opportunity for the persistent business development executive to tag a government speaker around the coffee run right? Wrong! At a recent AFCEA defence and security conference in Ottawa, a new avoidance technique was demonstrated. If senior government officials don’t show up for the event, they don’t have to be bothered by those pesky industry folks. So, instead of showing up at the allotted keynote time – or sending a departmental sub – word came that the ADM was “on French” and therefore unable to make the awaited ­address to the information-­hungry crowd of industrialists.

Sometimes, even when they show up at meetings, they do so without the necessary knowledge. I recently sat in a meeting with a director general from Canada’s security department and tried to understand where, in this official’s section, there could be room for industry to get involved and contribute to the cause of emergency preparedness for Canada. As it turned out, this particular official did not know what budget was available for protecting Canada’s critical infrastructure assets from natural or man-made threat.

Fire All Guns
So what, then, is the answer? How is it possible for an industry player to have a dialogue with the safety and security managers in our national government so that the requirements for solutions to our national safety and security interests are defined by the best minds in both the private and the public sector? To say that the input from industry must not influence a decision involving public funding indicates an incredibly naïve and dangerously ineffective attitude of arrogance on the part of some members of government.

A new dialogue and development directive is needed for PSEPC. In my view, major cultural changes are necessary among the top civil “servants” at PSEPC. The leaders in that department must recognize that Canadian Industry is part of the solution team – not an impediment to our National Security and Prosperity challenge. For this to work, we must increase open dialogue, minimize surprise and eliminate paranoia.

Canadians expect no less – so let’s step back, grab a new sheet of paper, and get it done ‘right’ now.  

Major (Ret.) Harold Bottoms is an Ottawa-based consultant.
© FrontLine Security 2006