The Department of Homeland Security’s acquisition workforce has been using artificial intelligence-based tools to help grasp the state of the commercial market space for various products and is looking to make wider use of these capabilities, the department’s top procurement official said on Tuesday.

These software tools have been used by procurement and program staff to gather open source data from existing government databases such as, the Federal Procurement Data System and others “to quickly give users a view of the commercial marketplace for a specific market that we’re looking to, whether cybersecurity, drones or office supplies,” Paul Courtney, DHS chief procurement officer, said during the virtual Homeland Security Forum hosted by ExecutiveBiz. “With just a few keystrokes, agencies can see a list of vendors who have previously been awarded contracts with the federal government for similar requirements.”

DHS has been working with the Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Federal Procurement Policy and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to roll out an AI market research solution, Courtney said. The end results are better market research and time savings for procurement personnel to let them “focus on high value work,” he said.

The market research tools are in addition to other AI-enabled tools that DHS has begun to adopt over the past year or two to aid the contracting workforce and mission support team, Courtney said. For example, Customs and Border Protection was an early adopter to test the use of robotic process automation to create a bot—essentially an autonomous program—that saved the agency $26 million in de-obligated funds in fiscal year 2021, he said.

Mark Borkowski, CBP’s chief acquisition officer, said later during the forum that “D-the-bot” has removed a lot of the repetitive, rules-based, manual processing used when contracts are closed out and funds remain available to “harvest” them before they expire and put them toward other requirements. The bot was developed by Borkowski’s procurement staff working with his chief information officer.

Borkowski said he uses the term AI loosely because in the case of D-the-bot it’s a “mindless” and “repetitive” tool but it frees up his staff to “focus on getting those end-of-year contracts awarded” and “engaging” more with industry.

CBP has also begun an initiative in digital capabilities to speed up and streamline the acquisition and engineering processes, he said. These digital tools have the potential for a “transformational impact” on the acquisition process, he said.

“That’s about creating information technology systems and tools that allow you to look at the interactions and interconnections of things that all have to play together in order to produce either a decision or a result,” he said.

These interconnected systems are “complex” and “they’re very labor intensive” and digital acquisition and engineering tools can “help you map and manage complex systems to reinforce” a decision or result, Borkowski said.