Department of Homeland Security Coronavirus (COVID-19) Efforts and Implications
Published: March 18, 2020
DHS efforts to support the U.S. Coronavirus response involves many of its agency components and impacts industry and infrastructure providers.
- DHS is providing resources useful to industry partners and national infrastructure providers that address broad needs, from travel guidance and situational awareness to cybersecurity to telework advisories.
- Cybersecurity diligence is critical as coronavirus-related malevolent cyber activities are targeting agencies, companies and individual users.
- Impact on DHS contractors will vary between classified and unclassified contexts and between frontline and enterprise support functions.
- Travel restrictions will require creative approaches by industry partners in supporting their government clients. Information infrastructure enhancements may be necessary to effectively serve a rapidly-distributed workforce.
- Rapid capacity increases for support services and critical capabilities for FEMA incident management support teams and other DHS components may drive targeted demand, likely using readily-accessible acquisition methods, such as OTAs, GWACs and MACs.
- Leadership vacancies at DHS presents opportunities for expertise and support from existing engaged industry partners.
Homeland Security’s Supporting Role
In a whole-of-government effort the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and its component agencies are providing support to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which is the lead federal agency in charge of the U.S. government's coronavirus response. As part of that effort DHS has established its own Coronavirus (COVID-19) information Web page that supplies information specific to its activities and its support to its employees and industry.
The earliest and most obvious efforts have been around restricting travel as a means to curtail the spread of the virus. DHS has issued a fact sheet on Arrival Restrictions on China, Iran and Certain Countries of Europe following Presidential Proclamations that “suspend entry to nearly all foreign nationals who have been in China, Iran, and certain European countries at any point during the 14 days prior to their scheduled travel to the U.S.”
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has a TSA COVID-19 page, which addresses many of the travel-related constraints and measures underway. Among the information on this page is a Travel FAQ that explains efforts to sanitize airport checkpoints and provisions that allow travelers to carry larger quantities of liquid/gel hand sanitizers than have been previously permitted. That’s handy information if you find travel unavoidable in supporting your government clients.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is providing incident management support, including crisis action planning, situational awareness, and operational coordination through its fifty-plus (50+) four-person Incident Management Assistance Teams – Advance (IMAT-A).
DHS’s Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office (CWMD) has been active in early engagement efforts in support of CDC’s entry screening operations through providing enhanced entry screening at key U.S. airports. The CWMD’s National Biosurveillance Integration Center (NBIC) is providing analytical, modeling and situational awareness information to federal, state, local and academic partners around the movement of persons out of impacted areas globally and into the U.S. to gain insight on the potential impacts of COVID-19 spread.
The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) has been active in interagency and industry coordination efforts, working with critical infrastructure partners to prepare for possible disruptions to critical infrastructure that may stem from widespread illness. CISA is also releasing cybersecurity alerts concerning COVID-19 scams as well as telework guidance and VPN security concerns and mitigations relevant to teleworking.
Of particular relevance to industry and DHS contractors may be CISA Insights - Risk Management for Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19), which contains tips for responding to physical, supply chain, and cybersecurity issues that may arise. CISA also directs infrastructure providers to update their disaster preparedness planning via ready.gov.
DHS has a workforce information Web page to inform its staff and supporting contractors of safety and support resources, including a number of blogs specific to the DHS workforce. Following guidance from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) directing federal agencies to expand telework options DHS has been adapting their workforce operations, including staff at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and others. Of course, options are fewer for intelligence or classified personnel. Anecdotally, I have spoken with contractors who are able to perform work for some of their clients remotely while needing to perform work for others within secure environments.
DHS has systemically struggled to fill and maintain key leadership positions and suffered from staff morale issues over the years. Industry partners have always supported the department and its components with critical expertise, services and products. This is yet another opportunity for industry to partner with and support DHS, especially for firms that have already been supporting the department in key mission areas.
This is by no means a comprehensive coverage of all of DHS’s efforts and the situation is fluid and evolving, but these give you a sense of the scope of effort and the potential for industry/contractor support and impacts.