Report: Creativity needed

PCAST

Homeland security research and development must use unusual yet proven practices from the public and private sectors to increase the likelihood that the federal government can successfully combat terrorism, according to a draft report approved last week by a presidential council.

The report, prepared by the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), outlines an organization for the proposed Homeland Security Department that takes advantage of the government's resources while incorporating the flexibility of the private sector.

"It's very rare to have a clean canvas to start out with," said Norm Augustine, former chairman of Lockheed Martin Corp. and co-chairman of the PCAST panel that wrote the report.

PCAST is composed of 23 industry and academic leaders — including the chairman of Dell Computer Corp. and the president of the Georgia Institute of Technology. PCAST's co-chairman is John Marburger III, the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

The report states that homeland security R&D does not fit into the traditional science and technology research model. Combating terrorism will require research into other sciences, such as social behavior and psychology. Homeland security R&D must be flexible enough to take into account those elements.

Indeed, R&D flexibility "is essential," said James Lewis, director of technology and public policy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "Just dumping information technology on top of a problem doesn't do any good. You have to have the analytical capability, and that will come from a mix of sciences. They will need to bring in the social sciences."

The report recommends an undersecretary for science and technology who would be responsible for the R&D strategy and budget — from concept development to product implementation. This would ensure that priorities are balanced across the department and that the best technologies are bought and deployed correctly.

The report also recommends that the department have managerial flexibility, which would enable scientists to react to changes in science and technology research.

Part of that flexibility includes creating an independent advisory body for the undersecretary, an organization that would function like a federally funded R&D center, a model the Defense Department uses. A group such as Mitre Corp. would assist with systems analysis and support systems engineering, and perform tests to find flaws or gaps in existing solutions. That way, "it's easier to stay at the cutting edge," Lewis said.

The report recommends creating other organizations within the department, and each would need similar managerial flexibility, such as a rapid prototyping capability, which puts development of promising new technologies on a fast track (see box).

PCAST rushed to approve the report on Aug. 5 so that once the public comment period is closed at the end of the month, the document can go to the White House and then Congress as the final decisions are made on the proposed department's structure, said Floyd Kvamme, co-chairman of PCAST.

"I think the report has come out nicely, and it will be a good starting point," Marburger said. "I know the president is looking forward to it."

The report is welcome reinforcement of the organizational recommendations made in the National Academies' June study on R&D priorities for the proposed department, said Lewis Branscomb, co-chairman of the study.

And several ideas from the report are already reflected in the House version of the homeland security bill, so "I would think that this PCAST report will be very helpful in the conference [meetings] to help bring the House and Senate versions together," Branscomb said.

Congress may take a serious look at the report because of the high-powered members on PCAST, Lewis said.

"It's a range of people who have some political clout," he said. "So if they're coming out and supporting [the report's concepts], then it's more likely Congress will pay attention."

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Getting ahead

The President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology issued a report last week recommending a structure for the research and development functions of the proposed Homeland Security Department. Among the recommendations are:

* A homeland security national laboratory, focused on high-payoff but high-risk, long-term goals.

* An operational test and evaluation center to validate the performance of newly developed solutions.

* A rapid prototyping group, which would conduct fast-track development of promising new technologies.

* Specialized development groups, structured around technologies and focused on cybersecurity, information management and other issues.

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