Bringing science to homeland security

The role that science and technology will play in the Bush administration's homeland security plans is coming into focus through efforts by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the National Academies — the quasi-governmental agencies that provide independent advice to the federal government on scientific and technical matters.

OSTP is writing the research and development chapter of the Bush administration's homeland security strategy. That chapter will focus on a long-term mechanism for gathering ideas and technologies from the private sector and putting them to use within the government, OSTP Director John Marburger said at a press briefing May 29.

Recommendations from a soon-to-be-released National Academies study on the role of science and technology in homeland security will figure into that chapter, he said (see box). The Office of Homeland Security expects to deliver the national strategy to the president by early July.

The National Academies study could help find short-term solutions as well as aid OSTP officials in determining the best way to interact with industry over the long term, said Lewis Branscomb, co-chairman of the study.

Industry will be a key player in supporting the OSTP effort, but government officials may not tap the private sector for some time, because the process for determining industry's role is still under development, Marburger said.

However, private-sector officials must understand that the government will adopt new technologies only after identifying potential threats and responses, he added.

There are four steps to creating a homeland security strategy:

* Identifying and prioritizing threats.

* Determining and agreeing on a response for each threat.

* Specifying the technologies needed to support those responses.

* Exploring what technologies are available in the market or what research and development is needed to make the necessary technology available.

Industry can assist in the final two steps, but the government is still working on the first two, Marburger said.

Devising a long-term strategy is necessary and determining the threats and possible responses is a responsible first step, said David Colton, vice president of strategic initiatives for the Information Technology Association of America. However, the Bush administration must provide the private sector with a single point of contact now, so that when the government determines what it needs, the structure will already be in place.

"There's a balance between short-term and long-term, and getting some kind of framework in place as soon as possible is necessary," he said.

The National Academies study will also help private-sector leaders determine how to improve industry's resources, markets and security, Branscomb said. That is particularly important because companies and universities "are the targets as well as the solutions to many of the problems."

The study should be released by the end of June, Branscomb said.

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