DHS’ Margie Graves on big data, budget cuts and innovation

Deputy CIO Margie Graves talked to FedScoop about how the Department of Homeland Security plans to do more with less.

Big data is the primary driver of innovation for the Department of Homeland Security in 2015, according to Deputy Chief Information Officer Margie Graves.

In the face of declining budgets and a vast increase in the capacity to collect data, engineering creative solutions to store and process information is a top priority for DHS. For a department that manages large caches of aerial and satellite imagery — which can measure in the tens of terabytes — the ability to organize and distribute its data in real time can be the difference between life and death, particularly in disaster response situations.

“Data really is the enabler of mission success,” Graves said. “It’s all about the data, the ability to attain situational awareness — to drive mission impact by getting data to the right individuals, whether it’s DHS being able to respond to threats and dangers or FEMA helping citizens respond to natural disasters. Getting data to people on the ground is so critical today.”


The department’s attempt to scale back spending and increase efficiency culminated in the Management Cube, an award-winning interface that emerged from the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act. The program allows users to access data from various sectors within DHS — financial, procurement and enterprise, to name a few — in parallel to see where costs could be cut.

A major point of reform for DHS’ Office of the CIO has been the gradual phasing out of antiquated legacy systems in favor of more efficient technology.

“Software defined networks and innovations that are coming forward at this point in time are things we would like to buy as a service. The imperative for the ever-decreasing budgets and for us to make better use of the dollar pushes us out of that paradigm to something we can actually afford that gives us predictable top line and adapt as we need to,” Graves said. “Our customers need to have a full portfolio suite of capabilities available to them that are competitive, up-to-date, innovative and probably leading-edge of what’s happening. We cannot afford to be in an own-and-operate legacy state.”

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