Obervers say the Department of Homeland Security is driving demand for qualified IT professionals nationwide.

By Chandler Harris | April 2008

In the five years since the Department of Homeland Security was created, spending for homeland security has surged. Federal funding has increased each year since 2001, with the 2007 programmatic budget request from DHS coming in at $35.6 billion, an increase of 7 percent from 2006.

DHS spending has greatly affected federal, state, local and even the private sector hiring needs, especially when it comes to IT professionals. The DHS needs to fill an estimated 47,897 jobs, including 11,562 IT positions, in homeland security and defense by 2009, according to the Partnership for Public Service.

While the DHS industry is generally considered to be primarily oriented toward counter terrorism, the industry has grown to encompass a broad range of activities oriented around the flow of people, cargo, conveyances, information and finance, says Jonah J. Czerwinski, consultant and author of the blog hlswatch.com. Because of this and the ever-growing reliance on technology solutions in government, Czerwinski believes DHS is driving a strong demand for qualified IT professionals nationwide.

"DHS success factors will depend on certain specialist enterprise architects, specialists in information sharing, and types of technical architectures to support and facilitate the three goals of DHS: customer services, operation excellence and national security," Czerwinski said.

The DHS industry's broad pull has influenced the private sector. "Homeland Security is one of the agencies that does depend on very robust relationships with outside contractors to get everything done charged by Congress," observes John Palguta, vice president of policy at the Partnership for Public Service.

The spending has been a boon for IT professionals in both the public and private sector, since many new homeland security programs involve the implementation of new and emerging technologies. IT security, biometric technology, immigration management systems, and interoperable communications are just a handful of technical sectors being used and nurtured by DHS.

Need for Biometrics

Biometric technology - an identification technology based on physical or behavioral traits - has emerged as an in-demand technology for DHS and governments across the country and the world. This year the industry is estimated to be worth $3.836 billion, and will grow to $7.4 billion by 2012, according to the International Biometric Group. About 70 percent of biometric market adoption is currently by government, says Joseph Atick, chief strategic officer at biometric firm L-1 Identity Solutions in Stamford, Conn.

"The transition of biometric technology from the government to enterprise and consumer is faster and better than it has ever been," Atick says. "In the last five years we've seen a significant change of attitude toward biometrics."

The growth in biometrics is primarily driven by government-mandated implementation of biometrics for employees, citizens, and foreign nationals in national security-oriented applications, says the International Biometric Group. There is particular interest in biometric technologies that enhance visa and immigration documentation and government issued identification card programs, such as the Real ID program and the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). DHS is also experimenting with multiple biometrics solutions for its U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology program (US-VISIT).

More Training Available

Because of the increasing emphasis on homeland security, hundreds of community colleges, four-year universities and postgraduate programs have begun offering degrees and certificates in emergency preparedness, counter-terrorism and security. Joppatowne High School in Joppa, Md., has even begun the nation's first high school homeland security program, a three-year course to help students land jobs in the growing anti-terrorism industry.

In coming years, the biggest growth areas within homeland security are expected to be knowledge management and inspection and detection technologies, including database applications, visual analytics, Web 2.0 collaborative technologies, and CBRNE inspection and detection technologies, says Richard Bergin, a faculty member of the Center for Homeland Defense and Security at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif. Yet potential homeland security professionals should understand processes in a number of disciplines, Bergin says, since government agencies increasingly work together through interoperable networks.

At the end of the day, the homeland security industry offers more than expertise in counterterrorism and emerging technologies or job stability.

"We spend our lives here and I think anybody's effort to engage and contribute to an effort to contribute to making our country is a safer place is substantial," Bergin comments. "Everyone I work with is committed to ensuring the safety of our nation, which provides a commonality that fosters a very positive and innovative work environment."

Chandler Harris is a business writer in California.