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Sandia marks 20-year partnership with Department of Homeland Security

Mark Allen and Dan Sanchez reflect on building the collaboration

Image of Dan-Sanchez
COMMITTED TO COLLABORATION — Dan Sanchez serves on the senior leadership team of the NNSA Sandia Field Office. (Photo courtesy of Dan Sanchez)

Dan Sanchez had dropped off his wife at work in Washington, D.C., and was en route to his son’s daycare center when he saw a huge plume of smoke rise. It was Sept. 11, 2001, and an airplane had flown into the Pentagon.

“When all of this happened, it was very real for me,” said Sanchez, who was working for the NNSA, which oversees Sandia. Thinking back upon that day, he recalled, “It was the memories of having to abandon and get out of your car and walk over the long bridge, put your kid over your shoulder and hike across the Potomac — and you don’t really know what’s happening.”

In response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the Department of Homeland Security was created and began operations in 2003, marking 2023 as the 20th anniversary. Sandia has been involved with the homeland security mission from the department’s inception, and NNSA and Sandia have developed a strong relationship with DHS over the years.

Sanchez now serves on the senior leadership team with the NNSA Sandia Field Office, which has responsibility for the management and oversight of Sandia, serving as an adviser for national security programs across the Labs.

His personal experience with the attack on the United States made him even more invested in helping build NNSA’s and Sandia’s enduring strategic partnership with DHS, which was created two decades ago through the combination of all or part of 22 federal departments and agencies into a unified, integrated department.

A blossoming partnership

Image of Mark-Allen
DEDICATED CAREER — Mark Allen, a Sandia senior administrator for the Integrated Security Solutions division, including the Energy and Homeland Security portfolio, joined the Labs in 2004 as a project manager supporting the Department of Homeland Security. (Photo courtesy of Mark Allen)

Sanchez has worked in close partnership with Sandia, and in particular with Mark Allen, Sandia’s senior administrator for the Integrated Security Solutions division, including the Energy and Homeland Security portfolio.

“We were no longer just a nuclear and multiprogram laboratory — we had transitioned to a national security laboratory, first and foremost that has a unique nuclear weapons responsibility,” Mark said.

Mark joined Sandia in 2004 as a project manager working on the Labs’ support of DHS under the directorial leadership of Jill Hruby, who now serves as Under Secretary for Nuclear Security and Administrator of NNSA.

Mark helped establish how Sandia would handle program development and project management in carrying out work for DHS. He also guided and nurtured the use of a master interagency agreement between the government agencies that provided streamlined contracting, enabling the Labs’ rapid technical response to a DHS request.

“I was really honored,” he said. “Under her oversight, we were able to build the things that we are doing today for DHS.”

As a federally funded research and development center, Sandia partners directly with DOE, NNSA and DHS with a common commitment to prevent future attacks against the nation. Sandia is one of the national laboratories that helped build the framework and continues to support the 22 DHS components that now include agencies such as the Transportation Security Administration and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. This framework that established an interagency agreement between DOE and DHS allows Sandia to quickly respond to DHS mission needs.

A shared interest

“We’re viewed as a trusted partner. As an FFRDC, we have a unique relationship with the government in providing an unbiased scientific and systems engineering approach that is different from that of private industry,” Mark said. “We’re working for — as our motto says — exceptional service in the national interest, and we apply that to what DHS needs. They come to us with what they think is an existing threat, an evolving threat or just a tough nut that needs to be cracked, and we have a systems engineering laboratory with capabilities across all of Sandia’s centers that can bring solutions to the forefront.”

Sandia briefs DHS annually on Laboratory Directed Research and Development work and gathers input on programs to push the frontiers of science and engineering. This allows Sandia to further its service to the nation by helping meet the needs of homeland security.

“There’s a huge value DHS receives from being able to access the resources within DOE to solve the most pressing needs of the nation,” Mark said.

From developing open-architecture design for airport screening systems to working on countering chemical and biological threats, Sandia has contributed to the homeland security mission in a variety of ways. Sandia has also supported national emergencies such as hurricane response efforts and developed technology that has kept watch over large events such as the Super Bowl.

“Sandia provides this stream of research and development into a systems engineering model and pushes out something that is helpful and useful to protect the nation,” Mark said.

A world view

In the 20 years since the founding of DHS, Sandia’s support has allowed the agency to aid the nation on worldwide matters, while always striving for continuous improvement.

“There have been several other world events since 9/11, but the most recent one that hits home and is still kind of raw for all of us is the global health pandemic and the shutdown of our nation,” Sanchez said, adding that the interagency agreements already in place allowed Sandia to step up when needed. “Our multiprogram national security laboratories were in a much better position to be able to work with our sister labs and agencies like DHS to deploy technologies at the speed of mission need.”

The 20-year partnership of the DOE laboratories and DHS has overcome impediments and obstacles in order to serve the nation. The interagency collaborations are driven by threat-informed and mission-inspired national security needs, enabled by a strong science, technology and engineering capability base from across the Labs.

“We share a common commitment to prevent future attacks across the nation because we have to be in a position to respond to natural, accidental and intentional disasters that could be either disruptive to our way of life or truly bring harm to our American prosperity or to our economic security,” Sanchez said.

“We’ve come a long way since 9/11, with many lessons encountered and overcome. The strategic partnership that NNSA has established with DHS has enabled Sandia to unleash capabilities that have only further strengthened our homeland security. This has been a highlight of my career, supporting strategic partnerships to enable Sandia to deliver the exceptional service to our nation that is done so well. Our relationship with DHS is special because their mission success is our mission success.”

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