DHS rounds out science unit

DHS research and development

Supporting and anticipating the needs of its colleagues in the Homeland Security Department is the top priority for the now-complete Science and Technology Directorate, a top official told a House subcommittee this week.

The directorate is almost fully staffed, with experts in all the lead positions, including the heads of the "portfolios," which work directly with mission and management portions of the department, said Penrose (Parney) Albright, assistant secretary for science and technology. Albright was testifying before the House Homeland Security Committee's Cybersecurity, Science, and Research and Development (R&D) Subcommittee.

Portfolio directors are also in place to ensure coordination among the pieces of DHS, with all near-, mid- and long-range research coordinated by the top staff at the Office of Plans, Programs and Budgets. So far, that seems to be working, Albright said, adding that the department must submit a report on these efforts to Congress in December. Fiscal 2005 will provide the real test, with the first consolidated R&D budget for DHS, he said.

Coordinating research plans with other agencies and departments is also important, said Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), subcommittee chairman. He expressed interest in how performance metrics could be used internally as well as by Congress.

R&D metrics are complex to begin with, and metrics for homeland security are especially difficult to develop, but Albright urged Thornberry and other members to ask for detailed plans and milestones and hold the directorate accountable, if only because "it forced on us a very disciplined development process," he said.

The directorate is developing a robust cybersecurity R&D center within the Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency for the Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection Directorate, Albright said. The center developed an agenda to examine many topics, such as understanding infrastructure vulnerabilities and detecting insider threats. Officials are issuing a solicitation for a contractor to support the center.

The directorate also is establishing technical standards with the National Institute of Standards and Technology for many areas, including radiation detection standards and interoperable communications equipment. Rep. Robert Andrews (D-N.J.) expressed his concern that state and local governments will not follow those standards. Although officials will work the standards into the grants that go out to first responders, they aren't yet sure whether they will be requirements or suggestions, Albright said.

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