The Department of Homeland Security wants Silicon Valley's help defending the nation from cyber threats and issued the first call for help: securing the Internet of Things.

Using the more flexible Other Transaction Solicitation funding method, DHS released the first request for proposals in its Silicon Valley Office Innovation Program asking vendors to chime in on new ideas to secure the ever-expanding list of devices and appliances connected to the Internet and the critical systems they're being connected to.

Download: OTS Innovation Internet of Things Call

"Greater deployment of IoT across numerous industries and the 16 critical infrastructure sectors that DHS monitors has the potential to create significant benefits to society," according to the call. "However, the vital importance of these sectors to the nation's economy, security and public health means that solutions to IoT security vulnerabilities are critically needed."

DHS will be evaluating proposals throughout the month of January and offering seed money to develop up to 20 ideas, with additional funding available to those that show promise.

The IoT call is the first for the new OTS innovation program. Rather than go through a lengthy procurement process during which time new ideas would become outdated technology, DHS is incentivizing private companies to steer their research and development efforts toward areas where the government needs the most help, particularly around emerging threats.

"The objective of the Innovation OTS is to promote competition among non-traditional government contractors, with a streamlined approach to address specific needs related to Homeland Security," according to the notice.

Homeland Security plans to accept up to 20 applications for funding, with each being evaluated and awarded independently to keep the process moving. Interested vendors can submit a short written response to the call and might be asked to follow up with an oral presentation, either in person or through teleconference.

DHS expects to award as much as $20 million through the program over the next five years. Future calls are likely to include areas like aviation security, border security, biological threat defense, counterterrorism and support for first responders.

Aaron Boyd is an awarding-winning journalist currently serving as editor of Federal Times — a Washington, D.C. institution covering federal workforce and contracting for more than 50 years — and Fifth Domain — a news and information hub focused on cybersecurity and cyberwar from a civilian, military and international perspective.

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