Federal agencies kickoff working dog collaboration effort for stronger, sustainable future

  • Published
  • By Debbie Aragon
  • AFIMSC Public Affairs

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas — Ten federal agencies — including the Departments of Homeland Security, Defense, Justice and State — began an important dialogue here this week for government-wide collaboration in working dog operations.

The government-wide working dog team kickoff meeting, April 16-18, gave federal agencies the opportunity to talk through things like program challenges, sourcing strategies and best practices in an effort to build stronger, more sustainable canine operations for the future.

The event began with tours of Lackland’s canine campus to include DOD kennels, dog evaluation, veterinary and rehabilitation services, and breeding program areas; and on-base Transportation Security Administration training facilities. 

Mission briefings and open discussions on each federal organization’s canine patrol or detection programs followed the tours and allowed program managers, canine subject matter experts and various acquisition and contracting experts to talk through all aspects of canine operations and sustainment. 

“We were listening to working dog program managers and SMEs talk about their programs, especially relating to things they buy from industry whether a product or a service,” said Scott Heise, Air Force Security and Protection Category Management Council director with the Air Force Security Forces Center.

Although the federal category manager for security and protection is the Department of Homeland Security, Heise and the Air Force were designated as the execution lead for this week’s meeting designed to lay the ground work for a category intelligence report and future inter-agency collaboration. 

The intelligence report is expected to be key to “maximize mission effectiveness with every dollar that we spend,” said Peter Herrmann, a member of the Air Force Installation Contracting Agency at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, and the category program manager supporting Heise’s efforts.

There are a lot of great opportunities for collaboration between some or all agencies at the event, Heise said.

“These are people who already have great programs and are doing great things,” he said, noting the long-established partnerships between the TSA and DOD at JBSA-Lackland and U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Virginia as examples.

“We want to build on these already successful efforts,” Heise said.

Chris Shelton, branch manager for the TSA canine training center on Lackland, agreed.

Shelton knows how strong the long-standing relationship is between his organization and DOD’s military working dog operations managed by the Air Force and how both agencies benefit from it. 

Much has changed since the relationship began in the early 1970s with the Federal Aviation Administration, well before TSA was established.

“The TSA canine program as it is now and the DOD’s 341st (Training Squadron) have kind of grown up together over the years,” Shelton said. “The program size has increased and the mission has increased … it’s a great partnership … the ability to share resources and a similar mission on Lackland is outstanding.”

The 341st is part of Lackland’s 37th Training Wing.

This week’s event and the potential for expanded collaboration across federal agencies are extremely important, Shelton said.

“There’s already collaboration taking place because of increased security requirements across the country,” he said, “so we look forward to these events because we can learn from each other. Opening up the conversation between all of these (federal) agencies is critical to making sure that we are increasing the capabilities and performance of our programs.”

A large part of collaboration and partnerships is smarter acquisition and that’s why Herrmann and numerous contracting experts were at the table for this week’s discussions as well. 

“This week is extremely exciting,” said Herrmann. “It’s our first ever federal category management meeting specifically for an intelligence report (where) from an execution standpoint, we’re specifically looking at government working dogs. Bringing 10 federal agencies together to understand commonalities as well as variances in their requirements, the challenges they face at a tactical level and how we can acquire these and also manage the programs for working dogs more efficiently and effectively.” 

There are multiple requirements at play for government working dog programs, Herrmann said.

“We’re not only looking at the acquisition of the dog or the statement of work for the vendors that are coming out, we’re also looking at tangible commodities like dog food and trailers and vet needs of these animals,” the category program manager explained. 

This means taking a holistic look at all costs for dogs and the strategic management of working dog programs to determine commonalities among agencies as well as differences, Herrmann added. 

Ultimately, it all adds up to better fiscal management of taxpayer dollars, Shelton said.

“The more we can share those taxpayer dollars for the same mission, the better the programs are,” Shelton said. 

For example, TSA is currently building additional infrastructure on Lackland to support its mission but it’s doing so in partnership with the DOD.

“The ability for the TSA and the Department of Defense to share those facilities is saving the taxpayer money because we’re not building separate facilities to meet our missions. The more of those types of events we can do with our partners, the better off we are with being a good steward with taxpayer dollars,” Shelton said.

As the kickoff meeting wraps up April 18, Heise expects discussions among agencies to continue as Herrmann and his team begin the process of crafting the category intelligence report.

“We’ll continue to compile what we’ve learned from this week in terms of a requirement analysis that then will shape and form the scope for this category intelligence report,” Herrmann said.

That means “focusing where we want to look from a market analysis standpoint … beginning to understand who the primary vendors in this particular area are, how do we fit in terms of the entire market share for government working dogs,” he said. “We’re competing at a world-wide level — buying against many other countries — and if we’re not buying as a consolidated federal government, then we’re competing again ourselves. Collaborating and looking at this from a federal perspective is advantageous. 

“For us (from an industry perspective), our mission is our profit so it’s maximizing that mission with the dollars that we have,” Herrmann explained. 

The end result, Heise said, “could be a new, multi-agency or government-wide contract, but we also look at our buying practices, demand management. We look at industry and academia best practices … can we apply them to the federal government.”

“We’re super excited about this federal working dog opportunity,” Herrmann added. “We believe this is the first of many to come in terms of just collaborating with other agencies … bringing a magnifying glass to some of the specific efficiencies and effectiveness that can be brought together.”