June 14, 2022
SIMS Software, the leading provider of security information management software to the government and defense industries, has obtained the rights to a tool created by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), in Laurel, Maryland, that streamlines the process for reporting foreign travel.
“Over the past five years, we’ve been demonstrating this capability at national security industry conferences, and people have been asking for the tool,” said Bonnie Cubbage-Lain, APL’s point person for visitor access and foreign travel requirements. “We are pleased to be able to offer this to the community in response to that demand.”
For security reasons, APL staff members, like all government and private sector employees with access to classified information, must report travel outside of the United States, whether personal or business related.
For years, this meant completing multiple foreign travel notification forms, said Cubbage-Lain. “For some staff members — namely those with Sensitive Compartmented Information [SCI] or Special Access Programs (SAPs) — at least 15 forms were needed to meet sponsor requirements for any foreign travel,” she said. “This was a time‑consuming, labor‑intensive process.”
Knowing that there had to be a better way, Cubbage-Lain — who works in the Laboratory’s Security Services Department — reached out to APL’s Information Technology Services Department (ITSD) to explore developing a web-based system that would allow staff members to select the forms they needed, answer all the applicable questions and print the required forms.
“I recruited a security team that included members from the SCI and SAP offices familiar with sponsor reporting requirements for foreign travel and the applicable forms to complement my knowledge of the information captured for the collateral-level clearance security office form and travel polices,” she said.
Cubbage-Lain was joined by ITSD’s Kristine Harshaw, who assembled an experienced team of developers and service managers, including Mo Hashemian.
The team met weekly and, among other critical tasks, mapped out all 240 possible questions required for 21 possible forms. They incorporated relevant policies and government requirements into the process and stayed focused on creating a tool that was intuitive and user-friendly.
The team launched its web-based tool in 2014. The following year, it rolled out an even more robust version that included reporting capabilities, auto‑generated emails to staff members and the security teams, as well as dashboards to enable the collateral, SCI and SAP security offices to review, return and approve form submissions. An International Trade Compliance Office (ITCO) dashboard was added in 2016 to assist with enhancements for export compliance questions.
The new tool featured numerous noteworthy improvements. In addition to allowing staff members to complete and submit all required foreign travel forms at one time — and send the forms to the applicable security offices — the tool enables them to assign a proxy to complete foreign travel notifications. It also auto-generates foreign travel security information, security briefings and resources emails; auto-generates and sends the traveler an electronic “APL Device Letter” when needed; and flags restrictions that prevent travelers from taking APL electronic devices to prohibited countries.
Staff members can store personal profile information to auto-populate the form. The tool also stores all travel records, enhances reporting capabilities, allows for an emergency event report (to check on staff safety, if necessary) and generates a post-travel questionnaire for counterintelligence and debriefing purposes.
The team tweaks the tool as needs arise. For instance, in 2017, the Security Executive Agent Directive (SEAD) 3 expanded the reporting requirements for foreign travel on behalf of covered individuals (e.g., contractor personnel who have been granted eligibility for access to classified information through the National Industrial Security Program, or are in process of a determination for eligibility). Under SEAD 3, all covered individuals are required to report unofficial foreign travel to their facility security officer or assigned designee for entry into the Defense Information System for Security (DISS).
In 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the team added a “health risk countries” list and generated an email to staff members notifying them of the countries with COVID-19 elevated risks.
Under the licensing agreement, SIMS will be offering a sublicense of APL’s solution to its U.S.-based customers, which includes government agencies, defense contractors, academic institutions and research facilities.
“Johns Hopkins APL has built a legacy of being a premier technology innovator in the defense and national security arena. SIMS Software is proud of our long-standing relationship, which first began in 1992, and we are quite fortunate to have an exclusive licensing agreement to commercialize their foreign travel reporting tool. Building on the foundation of SIMS foreign travel tracking, this tool will assist our customers to accelerate compliance of SEAD reporting for cleared government and defense contractors,” remarked Michael Struttmann, SIMS Software CEO and president.
“APL should be proud of this partnership,” said APL Chief Security Officer Leonard Moss Jr. “This is another critical contribution that the Lab is making to the national security community, and I could not be prouder to see it come to fruition.”
“This was an outstanding collaborative success story,” Cubbage-Lain said. “The team included excellent program management, an extremely talented and creative development team and outstanding collaboration and brainstorming by the various security stakeholders in the collateral, SCI and SAP areas.”
Media contact: Paulette Campbell, 240-228-6792, Paulette.Campbell@jhuapl.edu
The Applied Physics Laboratory, a not-for-profit division of The Johns Hopkins University, meets critical national challenges through the innovative application of science and technology. For more information, visit www.jhuapl.edu.