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(Funded) Request for Proposals for Borders, Trade, and Immigration Research RFP-16-01

This proposal has been successfully funded. The page remains for archival purposes.

Proposals due May 27, 2016*

UPDATE: Amendment 2 | Amendement 3

Background | Proposal Topic Areas | Proposal Format and Evaluation Criteria | Submission Instructions | Review/Selection Process | Award Process | Amendment 1 | Amendment 2 | Amendment 3FAQ | FAQ Revision 1 | FAQ Revision 2 | FAQ Revision 3


The Borders, Trade, and Immigration Institute (BTI), led by the University of Houston, leads innovative research and educational initiatives to enhance the nation’s ability to secure our borders, facilitate legitimate trade and travel, and ensure the integrity and effectiveness of our immigration system. Through a multi-disciplinary team of national and international experts, the Center delivers transformational technology-driven solutions, data-informed policies, workforce development opportunities for today’s Homeland Security Enterprise, and trans-disciplinary education for the next generation of homeland security experts. More information on BTI may be found at

  • Theme Area 1 - Border Security: BTI focuses on multi-disciplinary technology and policy research related to border security. BTI seeks innovative research to develop technologies that address border security knowledge gaps. We are interested in innovative technologies for surveillance, detection, and identification to improve situational awareness at and near the border, while maintaining sensitivity to privacy, effectiveness, and affordability. We are also interested in research and development of technologies for detection, tracking, interdicting, and monitoring of high-risk or dangerous cargo, vehicles, and passengers. Specific research questions of current interest are outlined in Sec. B.
  • Theme Area 2 - Legitimate Trade and Travel: BTI projects aim to facilitate legal trade and travel. BTI seeks innovative multidisciplinary research to identify and interdict dangerous passengers and cargo from legitimate flows. We seek research in risk management to better measure and understand the balance of trade facilitation, the expedited movement of commerce, and security. We are interested in innovative ways to differentiate routinely between high- and low-risk people and cargo and expedite movement of the latter through the global system. Specific research questions of current interest are outlined in Sec. B.
  • Theme Area 3 – Immigration: BTI seeks research in innovative and improved methods to provide accurate and useful information about immigration to the public.  We are interested in research that addresses the effects and impacts of immigration policies. We seek research to better predict future immigration flows to and from the U.S., and innovative methods to enable better understanding the population dynamics of the immigrant population. Specific research questions of current interest are outlined in Sec. B.

This call is being issued to a wide audience and solicits proposals that will focus on interdisciplinary research, education, and technology development in the areas of borders, trade, and immigration.

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BTI seeks to address a number of research questions related to the themes of Border Security, Legitimate Trade & Travel, and Immigration that are of interest to the public and relevant federal, state, and local agencies. These questions are:

1. Port of the Future

  1. What new features, capabilities and associated concepts of operation (CONOPS) can be developed that enhance efficiency, expedite trade and/or security at a maritime port of the future?
  2. What overall analysis, including the development of a business case and roadmap, can be developed for a maritime port of the future?
  3. Port of the Future - Conduct an academic study:
  1. How would a study be conducted on a maritime port of the future that collects, reviews, and analyzes the impact of direct access by post-Panamax ships via the opening of the third set of locks through the Panama Canal?
  2. What analysis of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) operational impacts can be conducted that includes the impact of large ships and the need to shorten time-to-market – personnel impacts; logistical and facility impacts; Non-Intrusive Inspection or X ray scanning of containers impacts, etc.?
  3. What new methods can be developed to evaluate the regulatory, commercial, physical and environmental impacts of increasing container volume and efficiency impacts from expanded capabilities; terminal automation; and increased throughputs?
2. Trade Compliance
  1. Counterfeit Detection
  1. What new methods of detection and recognition of counterfeit articles can be developed for items made of inorganic materials in containers?
  2. What models can be developed to understand the performance of non-invasive sensor systems for detecting and classifying organic and inorganic materials in containers?
  1. Agriculture Inspection
  1. What new methods can be developed to stimulate movement and activity (i.e., eating, fighting, and procreating) of bugs in various commodities to improve sensor performance?
  2. What new methods can be developed for use with acoustic and microwave radar bug signature data collected from infested commodity packaging to improve classification of bug type?

3. Connecting Cargo to People and Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCO)

  1. Connect Cargo to People - Conduct an academic study:
  1. Bound within the maritime supply chain, how might a study be conducted to understand information flows between all players involved (including owners, buyers, sellers, governments and logistic parties) who aim to increase the visibility of goods by providing information into the supply chain?  Such a study should presume that all participants share some of this data depending on their role in order to increase trade compliance as well increasing efficiency, compliance and security. Is there a way to incorporate biometrics into the supply chain management process in order to ensure a secure chain-of-custody?  If so, how would it be accomplished?
  2. How might a study be conducted to understand how information is used and how its flows would be useful to determine methods of improving and facilitating trade while improving security? If biometrics can be incorporated into the supply chain, how can the return-on-investment be determined and what would improve the economic viability of biometrics?

4. Power for Remote Surveillance

  1. What assessment of fuel cell technology can be conducted as a source for both back-up and primary power?
  1. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and others are interested in fuel cells for backup and primary power for surveillance systems at remote sites not on the grid.Some of the surveillance systems are mobile and would use the fuel cell as an alternative to a generator, while other systems are based on solar power and need backup for cloudy weather periods.What assessment can be conducted that includes a survey of industry to understand developmental fuel cell systems? A study should describe available features, maintenance and an approximate costs of a system and fuel replenishment, for both backup and primary systems. 
  1. What analysis could be conducted to better understand power scavenging to eliminate and reduce the need to replace or recharge batteries?
  1. What analysis could be performed to understand future technologies powering remotely located sensors eliminating the need for batteries? A study should include survey methods of power scavenging.Some examples of sources include geothermal ∆T, earth seismic movement, motion from human movement (i.e., watch that powers via a person’s movements) and air movement.DHS is interested in powering sensors without the need to revisit them to replace or recharge batteries.

5. Hand-held Surveillance Technology

  1. As it pertains to surveillance in difficult terrain and/or hand-held surveillance technologies, what analysis could be conducted to identify and understand new technologies and techniques that perform non-linear junction detection (NLJD) and locating services (geolocation) at standoff ranges (10 feet → 1Km), which are line of site or non-line of site in uncluttered [electronic] environments?

6. Migration Strategic Indicators

  1. It is easy to have a generally accepted understanding of the factors which could have foretold of the impending Unaccompanied Children (UAC) migration crisis but having a generalized model which is comprehensive enough and assessed frequently enough to indicate the impending crisis prior to reaching the crisis level is a challenge. Prior to the event the focus of prediction and enforcement efforts had been on Mexican migration, which actually continued its pattern of decline. This reflects the continuing challenge of trying to capture intangible items such as passed or pending policy changes and potential calculus of the risk/reward balance of people contemplating participating in illegal migration. In addition, forecasting which items which may not have been a factor in the past but could significantly impact those determinations in the future are hard to predict. Lastly, being able to scale in and out of populations (e.g., Mexican migration vs. Honduran Migration) and areas (i.e., “squeezing the balloon” effect) need to be factored in as part of a holistic approach to the challenge.
  1. What methods can be used to holistically model migration levels given a multitude of contributing factors, some of which have not previously been tied to migration and others which are difficult to quantify?

7. Missed Detections

  1. Defining a “missed detection” is difficult. One challenge is to separate tracking of individuals for illegal activity that is not observed (i.e., drug or alien smuggling). Moreover, it is also difficult to determine which activity was missed since it was not observed. Along those lines, the metric to track “missed detections” (i.e., number of incidents, amount of drugs, or number of undocumented migrants) varies and does not lend itself to the need to develop a true understanding of illegal flows (i.e., best smuggling routes are reserved for drugs and other high value illegal flows while undocumented migrant smuggling is done using less successful routes).  What constitutes “missed” is sometimes ambiguous as in discovering footprints leading away from the border may be considered a successful detection of an incursion.
  1. What methods can be used to account for missed detections in a way which can inform decisions regarding vulnerabilities from illegal flows while also enabling accurate measures of illegal flow volumes of drugs and undocumented migrants?

8. Central American Immigrants & Refugees Crisis: Is There a Paradigm Shift?

  1. Deter or prevent unauthorized movement—what can be done to encourage immigrants and refugees to stay in their countries of origin? Research questions in this theme relate to examining and re-examining push-pull factors, as well as any strategies being used to deter unauthorized migration. Some key questions are:
  1. What are the root causes “pushing” people out of their countries of origin and/or “pulling” them to the U.S.? Are we dealing with the same push and pull factors or new ones? Is there a change in trends? What factors are involved in making the decision to leave the country of origin for the U.S.?
  2. To what degree do gangs “rule” or “govern” in local, regional, and even country-wide communities? That is, has the control gangs exert become akin to a violent political dictatorship, and if so, what happens to people who oppose such a system? To what extent are conditions in some of these countries—with ongoing hostilities between government forces and organized crime—similar to those of a civil war?  
  3.   What strategies are being used to discourage Central Americans from initiating an illegal trip to the United States, and what is the return on investment of those strategies—that is, which strategies are working, and which need to be revisited? Which new strategies need to be implement? How can “on the ground efforts” be best monitored (e.g., media messaging campaigns or new programs that aim to deter people from leaving for the U.S. in an unauthorized fashion) to assess their impact and effect? Who are the deterrence partners in each country (e.g., at the government level, civil society, non-governmental organizations, universities, schools) and how can those partnerships be effectively leveraged?
  4. How can the U.S. help improve conditions—and which conditions—in the countries of origin to deter the unauthorized movement of large masses of people to the U.S.?
  5. How are re-integration efforts for people sent back working or not working? What data sources are available on re-integration programs, and what can be learned about them? What approaches can be developed to discourage individuals from attempting to return to the U.S. multiple times?
  1. Describe the impact of Central American child and family migration on U.S. communities—who is being impacted and how? Research questions in this domain pertain to examining the impact of Central American immigration on local governments, schools, child and family-serving institutions along the border and in the major hubs where most Central American families and UACs are relocated (e.g., Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Miami, Dallas, Washington, D.C. Area, etc.). Some key questions are:
  1. What is the impact of Central American immigration on local governments and communities, including with respect to healthcare, education, and safety and security? What are the short- and long-term costs and benefits to U.S. communities of Central American immigration?
  2. How strong is the infrastructure for providing services to the population in U.S.? Which agencies are providing services, and what are the gaps in services?
  3. Are immigrants or refugees being released into U.S. communities adapting and becoming integrated into their local communities, or are they struggling? What are the health, mental health, educational, behavioral, employment, etc., outcomes of immigrants or refugees being released into communities in the U.S.?
  4. How is DHS handling the increase in arrivals, especially women and children? How is Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) new Family Case Management Program performing? What are the outcomes of families with histories of trauma enrolled in the program?

Applicants should take into consideration the following documents as they prepare to respond:

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Total funding under this call will be approximately $3,000,000. For research categories 1 – 7 noted above (i.e, Port of the future, trade compliance, connecting cargo to people and TCOs, power for remote surveillance, hand-held surveillance technology, migration strategic indicators, and missed detections)  funding for each award will be up to $500,000 with a performance period of up to three years. Approximately six awards are anticipated for these categories of research.

For research category 8 (i.e., Central American Immigrants & Refugees Crisis: Is There a Paradigm Shift?) funding will be up to $100,000 with a performance period of one year.  Two awards are anticipated for this category of research.

The available funds will be used for the project(s) that score the highest against the evaluation criteria.  The projects are expected to begin in the Fall of 2016 based on an approved work plan.

While the intent of this RFP is to resource awards through terms and conditions associated with a cooperative agreement in place with the Department of Homeland Security, it may be determined that an award could be issued through a task order contract.

Given the complexity of challenges posed by the research questions above, we encourage and give preference to applications received for proposals that incorporate multi-disciplinary expertise in methodological approaches.

A package containing templates for the proposal documents can be accessed via via

Applicants are invited to submit a proposal using the provided document templates that addresses the following:

D.1 Technical Narrative (11 point Arial font, 10 page limit, including figures)

  1. Introduction
  2. Research Question(s) being addressed
  3. Goal and Objectives
  4. Research Methodology
  5. Tasks
  6. Milestones
  7. Deliverables (Outputs)
  8. Performance Metrics
  9. Stakeholder Engagement
  10. Transition Approach
  11. Impact/Benefit (Outcomes)
  12. Programmatic Risks and Mitigation Plans
  13. References (References do not count towards the page limit)


D.2 Compliance Assurances (2 page limit)

  1. Data Needs– if the applicant is not generating their own data, please outline the data you will acquire in this project and how you will obtain it (e.g., publicly available, available for purchase, federal data).  If you are relying on federal data sources, please explain in detail how you plan to gain access to these, as their release is not a condition of the award.
  2. Human Subjects Research and ITAR/Export Controls– if applicable

D.3 Cost Information (no page limit)

  1. Detailed Budget showing itemized direct costs as well as indirect costs
  2. Budget Narrative/Justification

D.4 Biographical Sketch for the PI (4 page limit)

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Proposals must be submitted in a single PDF (electronic format) to BTI at the following email address: by 7pm (Central Time) on May 25, 2016. BTI reserves the right to amend the method of submission before the closing date. This RFP and all subsequent amendments (if any) are posted at the following URL: and/or can be requested by email to


*Note that additional reference information or supporting documentation (in any format) may be requested by BTI following submission.

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Reviewers from the academic/research community and DHS will evaluate the proposals. 

A merit-based evaluation criteria will be used to determine the award(s):  Scientific quality and relevance to DHS mission. 

Scientific Quality Review.  Reviewers will be asked to rate how the proposal addresses the following criteria, posed as questions.  Reviewers will rate applications using numerical ratings of 1 to 5 (poor to excellent) and apply the percentage-weighting factor as indicated for an overall rating. 

1. Originality and/or Innovativeness (25%)

  • Is it original, e.g., does the proposed effort challenge and seek to shift current research or paradigms by utilizing novel theoretical concepts, inter-disciplinary approaches or methodologies? 
  • Is it innovative, e.g., is the proposal a novel refinement, improvement, or new application of theoretical concepts, inter-disciplinary approaches or methodologies proposed?
  • Does this research have the potential to generate influential publications in the scientific community or lead to new discoveries or areas of investigation?

2. Proposed Approach/Methodology (25%)

  • Are the research goals clear and based on sound theory?
  • Are the methods proposed clearly stated and appropriate for testing the hypotheses?
  • Are the data generation or collection approaches appropriate for the research methods?
  • Is the approach or methodology technically sound, incorporating inter-disciplinary expertise when appropriate, including a demonstrated understanding of the critical technology or engineering challenges required for achieving the project goals?

3. Influence and Cooperative Linkages (25%)

  • Does the application show partnerships or cooperative initiatives with other institutions or organizations?
  • Does the application demonstrate a viable plan for developing substantial and continuing linkages with the Homeland Security Enterprise?

4. Qualifications of Personnel and Suitability of Facilities (15%)

  • Does the investigative team have the breadth of qualifications - credentials and experience - to conduct and complete the proposed research?  
  • Does the investigative team have prior experience in similar efforts and do they clearly demonstrate an ability to deliver products that meet the proposed technical performance within their proposed budget and schedule? 
  • Are the facilities suitable for the proposed research? 

5. Costs (10%).  

  • Are the proposed research (and/or education) costs appropriate and reasonable? 

Relevancy Review. Reviewers will be asked to rate how the proposal addresses the following criteria, posed as questions. Reviewers will rate applications using numerical ratings of 1 to 5 (poor to excellent) and apply the percentage-weighting factor as indicated for an overall rating. 

1. Mission Relevance (75%)

  • Does the proposed project address one or more of the research questions?  
  • Does the proposed project complement - and not duplicate – existing research and development programs sponsored by DHS or others? 
  • Are the potential research deliverables and users of the research well described?

2. Communicating/Transitioning Results (25%)

  • Does the applicant have a track record of effectively communicating or successfully transitioning research results to appropriate stakeholders, specifically:
  • Will the research team be able to deploy a technology and/or solution(s) that can be transitioned effectively to the user community either through commercialization of the technology, open source distribution, or through other means?
  • Does the proposal demonstrate the implementation of an appropriate knowledge transfer process (i.e., models from case studies to other areas, patents, etc) from academic to government end-users and other DHS customers?

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Awardees will be notified by BTI when a determination is made. The anticipated award date is Fall, 2016.  Application submission period will be closed on May 25, 2016 at 7:00 PM (Central Time).

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A new compressed file is available for download containing updated templates for proposal documents via

The new templates replace the previous ones. Specifically,

  • The Compliance Assurance forms (template and instructions) have been updated with clarifications.
  • The Cost template form has been replaced by two separate forms, one for the prime awardee and one for the subawardees (if applicable). The new Cost forms clarify that biosketches are needed for all persons listed as Key/Senior.

1.2 FAQ

A new FAQ file (RFP-16-01-FAQ-Rev1.pdf) is available that expands and replaces the earlier version.


2.1 Submission Instructions

a) Proposals must be submitted using an automated submission system. Please go to this URL to sign up for a system account:

Once you fill out your contact information, the system will send you a link via email to activate your account.

When you sign in to your account for the first time, please click on the blue “View awards” button to access RFP-16-01.

Click on “Apply Now” and follow the instructions to complete the application form and upload your proposal PDF (both are required for a submission).

b) The deadline for submissions has been extended to May 25, 2016 11:59 PM Eastern Daylight Time (EDT)

2.2 FAQ

A new FAQ file (RFP-16-01-FAQ-Rev2.pdf) is available that expands and replaces the earlier version.

Amendment 3

3.1 Submission Instructions

a) The deadline for submissions has been extended to May 27, 2016 11:59 PM Eastern Daylight Time (EDT)

3.2 FAQ

A new FAQ file (RFP-16-01-FAQ-Rev3.pdf) is available that expands and replaces the earlier version. It corrects Q.1, further clarifies Q.6, and adds Q.18


April 13, 2016: FAQ

May 5, 2016: FAQ Revision 1

May 19, 2016: FAQ Revision 2

May 24, 2016: FAQ Revision 3