RTI International researcher testifies on technology needs to secure America’s borders

WASHINGTON – Joseph Eyerman, Ph.D., director of the Center for Security, Defense, and Safety at RTI International and co-director of the Institute for Homeland Security Solutions testified that the successful use of technology to secure America's borders depends on the ability of workers to employ the technology in a way that allows them to more effectively engage the public. 

Eyerman spoke before members of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology's Subcommittees on Research and Technology about technologies needed to better secure the nation's borders and the role social science plays in the test and evaluation process when developing new technologies.  

"Our social and behavioral research on private and public sector technology development demonstrates the critical importance of engaging the customer early and often in the research and development cycle," Eyerman said. "Valuable and relevant technologies often fail to leave the lab or fail to realize their full potential because they are not properly tailored to the needs of the customers."

Eyerman testified that the Department of Homeland Security has a strong technology development program but could benefit by establishing a social and behavioral sciences unit to conduct evaluations of the impact of new technologies and programs on the specific mission, workers, and populations it serves.  

"Such a unit would result in more timely, effective, and efficient technology transfer that promotes a secure homeland," Eyerman said. "Overall, DHS does not draw extensively on the social and behavioral sciences to assess the impact of its programs and technologies on the agency missions and the populations served. Now that DHS is well into its second decade, the establishment of standard impact evaluation requirements for new technologies and programs on the human aspects of the agency should be possible and expected."

During his testimony, Eyerman described findings from a series of needs assessments, requirement analyses, and program and technology evaluations he has been working on for the past six years with the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate. 

He reported that 

  • strong and potentially beneficial technologies can be derailed by failure to understand the willingness of the community to accept the technology in their daily lives
  • public perceptions of technology can be more complex and dynamic than may be expected by technology developers
  • the DHS S&T technology transfer process is inconsistently applied across programs and rarely draws in a representative set of government employees who will use the technology or the  members of the general public who will interact with the technology
  • careful assessments of the technical needs and operational abilities of the user communities, and thorough assessment of the effectiveness of new technologies to support agency missions is both expensive and time consuming, but more efficient that developing technology without a clear understanding of the relevant human factors and end users.

"I have come to appreciate the value that strong social science research methods can add to technology development in the private sector, academic, and public sectors," Eyerman said. "Specifically, these methods allow us to better understand the needs of the customers who will use the technology in their jobs and daily lives. This understanding can accelerate the technology transition process and bring better and more efficient technical solutions to meet border security needs."

Highlights

  • Joseph Eyerman, Ph.D., testified that the successful use of technology to secure America’s borders depends on the ability of workers to employ the technology in a way that allows them to more effectively engage the public
  • Eyerman testified that DHS has a strong technology development program but could benefit by establishing a social and behavioral sciences unit to conduct evaluations of the impact of new technologies and programs on the specific mission it serves