When Choosing a Value-Added Reseller, Weigh All the Options
Selling to the government at any level is big business. Every year, billions of taxpayer dollars are spent on a variety of goods and services. Unfortunately, stories about wasteful spending on grossly overpriced toilet seats became fodder for modern day muckrakers. While the process businesses must go through to be recognized as resellers to government is intensive, once in, too many vendors satisfy themselves with maintaining status quo.
In the three years since the devastating terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, local and state authorities have had to take a hard look at how really prepared their communities are to handle any type of incident, whether chemical, biological, or radiological. Also in this time, agencies have been inundated by thousands of companies doing business as value-added resellers (VARs) of homeland security products, with little or no established standards or criteria for purchasing such products. (A value-added reseller is a company that customizes an existing product and resells it as a new product or package to suit a particular need.) Millions in taxpayer dollars are being spent on products that can only be used by a specialized few. The failure to understand the realities of going beyond the status quo could cost more than taxpayers’ money—it could cost lives.
Government agencies charged with homeland security have had a steep learning curve in the area of understanding and planning the right type of equipment and training to protect both first responders and citizens. It is critical to know which VARs would make the most effective use of taxpayers’ funds when it comes to homeland security equipment. The following are tips for government agencies to consider before partnering with a VAR of homeland security products and services:
The concept of homeland security was relatively vague before the attacks of September 11, 2001. Since that time, an overwhelming number of companies has been vying for government business. Go beyond basic references, and seek case studies and customer testimonials in the bidding process and as part of the request for proposal (RFP). VARs with solid experience in hazmat or the military—working with explosives, threat assessment or any other chemical, biological, or radiological incidents—are good candidates to consider. So are those with third-party, objective endorsements from trusted sources.
Much of the available emergency equipment has not been safety tested or certified by the government or independent labs. In many cases, there are no standards. If possible, make sure that products meet voluntary manufacturer or government standards for the purpose for which they are designed. All masks, all gloves are not created equally and are not meant to be deployed for all situations. Use the right tools for the right job.
Opt for Objectivity
VARs, particularly in the area of homeland security, must be trustworthy to be objective and educational. This is no time for “salesmanship.” For entities to protect the most people, VARs must match equipment with needs and budget. VARs have a variety of products to offer for a given situation and should act as consultants, not salespeople. Find out what other products a VAR represents, and ask for clear distinctions between the strengths and advantages of one product over another.
Start a Training Program
A good VAR will offer a comprehensive training program for the homeland security product or service it provides and will be backed by experts to provide such services. Training is only as good as the trainer, so again, ask for credentials and expertise. An ongoing training program, responsive to everchanging needs, is critical to any government agency in protecting its first responders and citizens.
Prefer Widespread Protection
Before September 11, 2001, deciding how best to protect first responders was relatively simple. Military or hazmat equipment was usually purchased with the idea of protecting the core incident-handling team. Thus, only a select few had outstanding protection designed for entering hot zones.
This type of equipment is right for its purpose but is cost-prohibitive when it comes to protecting, equipping, and evacuating a majority of citizens in a given situation. Innovative homeland security products are available for the right protection, not overprotection, to ensure that police and fire professionals, as well as the largest number of citizens, are protected in a catastrophic event.
These products offer practical solutions without sacrificing quality or increasing risks and are significantly more cost-effective than military and hazmat suits and masks. Look for egress, decontamination, and redress kits (EDR kits) and perimeter control kits designed to protect the largest number of first responders and citizens.
Improve on a Good Thing
A good VAR is not just a vendor but a partner who will work with an agency to continually assess and evaluate homeland security equipment to be sure it meets specific needs. Identify a VAR’s willingness to understand and assess an entity’s current needs and modify their products or services to meet changing needs in the years to come.
By following these basic tips, local, state, and federal governments can be more prepared in dealing with the increase in VARs, particularly in those areas without set standards in place. The right tools exist for specific jobs—from moving throughout a hot zone safely to ensuring a more safe evacuation of citizens. Not all products are designed to perform in all situations, so weigh each product, its cost, and its deployment with budgetary constrainsts.
A good VAR is not just a vendor but a partner who will work with an agency to continually assess and evaluate homeland security equipment to be sure it meets specific needs.
-Editor’s Note: James W. Noe, senior policy advisor to the U.S. State Department, Office of Diplomatic Security, is president of Secure Product Creations, a division of Homeland Defense Solutions, Inc. The homeland security products provider focuses on empowering city and county authorities during chemical, biological, or radiological disasters, allowing them to more safely evacuate civilians and proactively control a situation. For more information, call 513-333-7800 or visit www.govinfo.bz/4355-301.
Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Slated to Receive Billions in Appropriations
The proposed Homeland Security Appropriations Bill will allocate approximately $33 billion to the Department of Homeland Security in 2005, a 9.4 percent increase over last year’s level, according to a report from INPUT, a Reston, VAbased provider of government market intelligence.
The largest funding increase, up $705 million from 2004, will go to the U.S. Coast Guard, with a total budget of $7.5 billion. The U.S. Coast Guard’s Deepwater Modernization Program has been funded for $776 million, a $112 million increase over 2004.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is projected to have a total budget of $5.2 billion, an increase of $649 million over 2004. Programs within TSA that will have significant increases include Airport Information Technology, budgeted at $292.9 million and Checkpoint Support, budgeted at $161.1 million.
According to the report, biological countermeasures will see a $149 million increase over 2004, with a total budget next year of $346.3 million, from the Science and Technology (S&T) Directorate. The S&T Directorate has proposed 2005 funding of $1.1 billion.
The report discusses the budget and grant opportunities within the Office of State and Local Government Coordination and Preparedness with the Department of Homeland Security. As of March 26, 2004, this office has all grant-making authority across the Department, reporting directly to the Secretary. The report indicates that the Senate Appropriations Committee has recommended $3.75 billion be set aside in grants assistance to the nation’s first responders for 2005. The Urban Area Security Initiative is expected to receive a $480 million increase in funding in 2005.
“In order for the Department of Homeland Security to continue to function effectively under increasing labor costs, a heavier reliance on technology is required,” says Kim Hovda, manager, grant products, INPUT. “The technologies necessary for the future will be the technologies that replace human effort with automated effort. The Department is taking steps toward this through research efforts being led by the Science and Technology Directorate and the Transportation Security Administration.”
For more information, or to download a summary of INPUT’s Homeland Security 2005 budget analysis report, visit: www.govinfo.bz/4355-300 or call (703) 707-3500.