GAO clamors for DHS research plan

GAO Report

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The Homeland Security Department still lacks a strategic plan for research and development (R&D) of technological countermeasures to nuclear, biological and chemical attacks, and for interagency coordination, according to congressional auditors.

In a report released May 24, General Accounting Office officials said that could result in duplication of research efforts and limit the department's ability to leverage resources for other federal R&D activities. But DHS officials say steps are being taken to complete the plan and work effectively with other agencies.

The GAO report states that officials at the department's Science and Technology Directorate haven't been able to complete the strategic plan -- which would identify R&D priorities, goals, objectives and policies for such needed technologies -- because they've been focusing on establishing the agency by developing policies and hiring staff, since DHS formed a year ago.

DHS officials signed a memorandum of agreement with the Energy Department, but they must still coordinate and establish partnerships with others, including the Defense and Health and Human Services departments as well as DOE's National Nuclear Security Administration, which manages most of the R&D of nuclear, radiological, biological and chemical countermeasures.

DHS' research program with DOE has focused on funding projects at five national laboratories -- including Los Alamos, Sandia, Lawrence Livermore, Pacific Northwest and Oak Ridge. In fiscal 2003, those five received more than 96 percent of $57 million in department funding, and nearly 90 percent of $201 million in fiscal 2004.

"Although DHS' decision to target its long-term investments toward a limited group of DOE laboratories has been explained as a strategic decision to maximize limited resources, we believe that annual project funding decisions and long-term investments in laboratory capabilities should be based on using and supporting the best science available," the report states. "These funding decisions should be made using well-defined criteria that are clearly communicated to every potential contributor."

Additionally, GAO officials said DHS should outline how Energy laboratories can compete with private and academic researchers for grants.

In response, DHS officials said they agreed the strategic plan is critical and have launched a formal process to determine strategic goals for the next five years, threats and vulnerabilities, as well as a list of priorities through fiscal 2010. The plan will be completed in early summer and will be reviewed and updated annually. They also said greater communication exists among agency and lab officials.

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