HSD seeks R & D funds

Bioterrorism is the biggest threat facing the nation at home and new technologies must be developed to fight it, the new under secretary for the Homeland Security Department's Science and Technology Directorate told Congress on April 10.

Charles McQueary, who was sworn into office on Wednesday, testified before the House Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on Homeland Security about why the administration is seeking $803 million in fiscal 2004 for research and development of anti-terrorism technology. The fiscal 2003 budget earmarked $561 million for DHS research and development.

"The most important mission for the Science and Technology directorate is to develop and deploy cutting edge technologies and new capabilities, to counter chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, explosive and cyber threats," he said.

Nearly half of the administration's request — $365 million — would be used for research on biological threats. The funds would be earmarked to develop a nationwide bio-surveillance system that looks for early indicators of exposure to biological agents and a rapid means of detecting infected animals before a disease spreads.

While there are other dangers facing the United States, "the most serious threat is biological. You can do lots of harm," said McQueary, pointing to the anthrax scare that caused havoc in a number of cities and stalled mail delivery for weeks in 2001.

McQueary said his first goal is determining what technologies already exist that could be used to help fight terrorism. Among them, he said, is existing technology that would put missiles on commercial airplanes.

"I do not believe it's a big deal. It would cost one or two million (dollars) per plane. From a technological standpoint, it is possible to install these," he told the gathering.

While members of the congressional panel appeared supportive of the new directorate, they said it is imperative to move quickly and find solutions soon.

"This is not R&D for the sake of doing R&D. Quite frankly, we don't have that luxury. Instead, we need real results," said Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), subcommittee chairman.

Rep. Martin Sabo (D-Minn.) suggested it is just important to outwit the potential attacker with "lots of imagination."

McQueary agreed, saying that he has met with scientists who deal with the psychology of the terrorist.

"This is not just a technological solution. You've got to figure out how the threat thinks," he said.

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