DHS tech group goes full throttle

DHS research and development

Officials in the Homeland Security Department's Science and Technology Directorate are moving ahead at warp speed to fill every position and devote all their energies to developing new kinds of tools in the war against terrorism.

Other parts of DHS are still figuring out how they fit together under the DHS umbrella, but the directorate is almost fully staffed. That includes experts in the lead positions, such as the directors of the portfolios that deal with border and transportation security, intelligence analysis and critical infrastructure, and emergency preparedness and response.

"I am pleased to report that all key offices of the Science and Technology Directorate are operational," said Penrose "Parney" Albright, assistant secretary for science and technology. He testified Oct. 30 before the House Homeland Security Committee's Cybersecurity, Science, and Research and Development Subcommittee.

That coordination is particularly important for the Coast Guard and Secret Service, which are still independent entities under the department. "Things will overlap," said Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), subcommittee chairman.

"It is...important that the [Science and Technology] Directorate get it right, maintain a sense of urgency and establish partnerships with the public and private sectors to make sure we are tapping into the very best ideas, products and research," he said.

So far, the portfolio coordination approach is working, Albright said.

For example, the rest of the department is not interested in research into new kinds of boats for the Coast Guard or ways the Secret Service can protect the president. When it comes to common needs, however, the directorate is able to combine appropriate tools.

In one case, the Nuclear Assessment Program for the Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection Directorate also created a capability for customs and Border Patrol officers to handle radiation alarms on the borders, Albright said.

"The staff of each portfolio is charged with being an expert in their particular area, with understanding the activities and capabilities extant in federal agencies and across-the-board research and development community, and with developing a strategic plan for their particular portfolio," Albright said.

Officials will continue to integrate R&D needs throughout fiscal 2004, and the department must submit a report on those efforts to Congress in December. Fiscal 2005 will provide the real test — the first consolidated R&D budget for DHS, he said.

Coordinating research plans with other agencies and departments is also important, Thornberry said.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology is an obvious partner, and the directorate has already formed a close working relationship with that agency, Albright said.

Other agencies' efforts — such as research at the Federal Aviation Administration — is currently coordinated through an ad hoc approach, but the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy has been active in participating in governmentwide homeland security issues, he said.

One of the NIST projects is to establish technical standards for many areas, including radiation detection and interoperable communications. The directorate "must view each technology through the prism of affordability, performance and supportability — all critical to end users," Albright said.

Rep. Robert Andrews (D-N.J.), a subcommittee member, said he is concerned state and local governments will not follow those standards. He suggested that complying with the standards be a requirement for first responder grants.

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Up and running

Congress approved a record amount of money for homeland security research efforts in the fiscal 2004 budget. The money will be spent on developing new technologies in the fight against terrorism, including biological and chemical countermeasures and new ways to detect biological, chemical and radiation threats.

Total budget for the Homeland Security Department's Science and Technology Directorate in fiscal 2004: $918.2 million.

Percentage of money earmarked for the Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency's research and development projects: 40-50 percent.

Source: Homeland Security Department

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