Sandia LabNews

DHS turns to Sandia for tech transfer help


When the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) realized at its launch that it needed to establish a consistent and productive technology transfer mechanism, it sought guidance from the laboratory with a track record.

Whether one measures intellectual property generation, numbers of CRADAs, revenue generated through business partnerships, or numbers of licenses, DHS found that Sandia is a top performer among the national laboratories.

Specific examples bolster Sandia’s reputation of excellence in partnerships with industry: the Labs’ longstanding relationships with Goodyear and Intel; its role in establishing and delivering on the largest CRADA ever (the Extreme Ultraviolet Lithography CRADA with a microelectronics consortium); the extensive licensing of risk assessment methodologies that enable public utilities to assess vulnerabilities and protect critical infrastructures; and the commercialization and deployment of various homeland security technologies.

Now, nearly two years after DHS first asked Sandia for assistance, the Labs is playing an ever-greater hands-on role in helping shape the department’s commercialization planning and technology transition efforts, particularly as they relate to federal laboratories.

The aim is to get homeland security technologies developed by the DOE labs deployed in products supplied by industry and available to end users who need them the most, while at the same time ensuring that technology transition strategies are developed at the outset when new technologies are conceived.

“Our goal has been to provide information analysis, ideas, and alternatives to DHS,” says Denise Koker (8529), business development manager at Sandia’s California site and the commercialization lead for the Labs’ Homeland Security and Defense (HSD) strategic management unit. “They can then use that information to create appropriate processes and mechanisms for achieving technology transfer.”

Adds Ellen Stechel (6220), who is assigned to the DHS Office of Research and Development after being rehired by Sandia after working in industry for nearly seven years: “In the past, the labs and their funding partners may have been quick to develop a technology without considering the technology lifecycle, which needs to take into account whether there is a customer, or whether it might eventually run into issues of affordability, reliability, manufacturability, usability, or serviceability. That’s where technology transition strategy and planning comes in.”

DHS, says Denise, has an unusually challenging responsibility to not only direct research and development through its Science and Technology directorate, but also to ensure that products from specific technologies are rapidly available for deployment to emergency responders, border agents, airport personnel, and other end users.

Whereas the federal government creates a market through large procurements, industry is more likely to adopt new technologies that meet the product requirements. However, for many products with homeland security applications, the federal government is not the purchaser or the end user.

“The Department of Defense is often its own consumer of products adopting R&D it funded,” Denise points out. “DHS, on the other hand, has to worry about promoting adoption by manufacturers and end users after developing the technologies. It’s of vital importance but it’s an additional burden for them, and one with which we are lending a helping hand.”

Commercialization is an element of a broader effort in which Sandia is helping DHS’s Office of Research and Development (ORD) establish technology transition processes for the lifecycle of technology development, from basic research through deployment. Ellen is assigned to DHS/ORD, working within the Office of Science and Technology to provide options for making technology transition planning integral to all program execution plans.

“Commercialization should not be a disconnected task or an afterthought, but rather part of an overall transition strategy that is consistently wrapped into to program development from the start,” says Ellen.

To this end, DHS has funded Sandia to aid them with several tasks. First, beginning last June, Jill Micheau (8529) went on temporary assignment to DHS, which Denise calls a “critical effort that put her directly on the front lines.” She and Denise conducted a benchmarking study, now documented in a report to DHS, comparing how other agencies conduct technology transfer and analyzing how alternative mechanisms and solutions might meet DHS needs.

DHS will soon be making decisions and implementing various technology transfer policies and processes. Ellen is serving as a consultant to a Science and Technology-wide team that will be finalizing technology transition guides, assessment tools, and policies and procedures.

Sandia’s BROOM among technologies to serve as pilot project

The Sandia DHS liaison team has been immersed in aiding DHS with exercising tech transfer processes and mechanisms by carrying out specific commercialization projects. In November, Denise Koker (8529) and Jill Micheau (8529) helped DHS develop the broad strategy for the pilot program, which focuses on three key homeland security technologies important to the department.

Denise and Jill’s contributions included a detailed process for selecting the most appropriate technologies, a step-by-step commercialization planning model to be used throughout the pilot project, and the identification of clear objectives and outcomes.

Jill’s briefings to various DHS executives on the plan have been well received. “We’re anxious to test new paths to commercialization, which may include the use of new contract types, penetrating new markets, and working across several federal agencies to leverage investments and meet multiple goals,” she says.

One of the three technologies selected by DHS for the Commercialization Pilot Program was Sandia’s own BROOM (Building Restoration Operations Optimization Model), with Sandia’s Jane Ann Lamph (8750) now leading the commercialization effort. (Lennie Klebanoff had been the key BROOM technology transition figure until returning to his technical position in Dept. 8757.) Jill, meanwhile, is taking on the other two pilots — Idaho Explosive Detection System, and a foot-and-mouth disease vaccine from the USDA being tested and further developed at DHS’s Plum Island Animal Disease Center.

Denise says commercialization plans for the three pilot technologies should be completed by May. Development of the plans involves extensive interaction with stakeholder agencies, end users, and potential industry partners. Therefore, some implementation is conducted in parallel with development and refinement of plans. Transition to DHS for continued implementation should be completed by June.

For her part, Jane Ann is excited about the challenges ahead with BROOM’s commercialization. At a recent Bio-Restoration Technology Demonstration event held at San Francisco International Airport, Sandians met potential BROOM user representatives from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), Los Angeles International Airport, and Bay Area Rapid Transit. Jane Ann says she hopes to capitalize on the relationships that were forged.

“Commercialization is a ‘contact sport’ that, by definition, involves a lot of briefings, demonstrations, and a great deal of personal contact with potential business partners,” she says. “Hopefully, that plays into my strengths.”

Denise and Ellen Stechel agree that the long-range goal is to contribute to making technology transition second nature for DHS/Science & Technology whenever it conceives of new projects and Technology needs.

“It needs to be a normal, funded component of the way DHS conducts business,” Denise says, “rather than an afterthought.”

“The challenge for a technology transition manager or champion is to convey to DHS program managers and their principal investigators in the field an understanding of the business and operational issues relevant to technology development and implementation to complement what they already well understand about the technical issues,” Ellen adds.