The Department of Homeland Security announced today that it is finalizing plans to open a satellite office in Silicon Valley.
“We want to strengthen critical relationships in Silicon Valley and ensure that the government and the private sector benefit from each other’s research and development,” said DHS secretary Jeh Johnson, in a speech at the RSA Conference in San Francisco, the world’s largest cybersecurity conference.
Johnson added that the Department hopes “to convince some of the talented workforce here in Silicon Valley to come to Washington,” and he called on top Silicon Valley talent to “consider a tour of service for your country.”
Some people in tech are already heeding the public sector’s call. Just a few weeks ago, the White House named its first-ever Director of Information Technology — former Facebook engineering director David Recordon — and several other high-profile tech executives have made the move into government. Last August, Mickey Dickerson, a former Google engineer, was tapped to lead the U.S. Digital Service, a newly created federal project tasked with “redesigning public services,” using the kind of intuitive technology that Americans are used to getting from private industry.
The DHS’s mandate in the Bay Area will be beefing up national cybersecurity. High-profile breaches like the Sony Pictures hack have forced the feds to start taking cybersecurity seriously, and the fact that the Pentagon’s Twitter feeds were successfully hacked by ISIS sympathizers in January only added to the urgency of the issue. Being in Silicon Valley, in addition to its symbolic importance, will allow the DHS to be closer to the pool of engineers it no doubt hopes to recruit.
For his part, Johnson said he has directed the DHS to “go full throttle” on technology that will help it monitor cybersecurity threats in the U.S. “Later this year, we will be in a position to begin to accept cyber threat indicators from the private sector in automated near real-time format,” he said.
The DHS already has investments in the tech sector, including Virginia technology security company Kryptowire, which the Department funded as it made the transition into the private sectors from its government roots. It also won’t be the only national security outpost in the Bay Area: In-Q-Tel, the CIA’s venture capital arm, has an office in Menlo Park, and Palantir Technologies, the private start-up that provides data services to the NSA, FBI, and CIA, among other clients, is located down the road in Palo Alto.
“We are all only as strong as our weakest link,” Johnson said at the RCA Conference. “There are wide differences in the level of sophistication in American business when it comes to cybersecurity. Yet we are all increasingly interconnected.”
Presumably, a new DHS office in Silicon Valley will allow it to collaborate more closely with existing government projects in the region. And if President Obama really does want to make the federal government more like Google, having real estate near Mountain View can’t hurt.