Committee chairs air SAFETY concerns

Letter to DHS Secretary Tom Ridge

Landmark federal legislation designed to encourage companies to rapidly develop antiterrorism technologies and then shield them from liability hasn't attracted many takers and House lawmakers say red tape is to blame.

In 6-page letter dated May 11 to Secretary Tom Ridge of the Homeland Security Department, three House committee chairmen said they want departmental officials to streamline the process created by the Support Anti-terrorism by Fostering Effective Technologies (SAFETY) Act of 2002.

The chairmen are concerned that the SAFETY Act has instead spurred "lengthy and bureaucratic reviews" of critical homeland security devices and services.

"To date, we understand that DHS has received disappointingly few SAFETY Act applications, and has yet to designate a single technology — even though some applications have been pending since late last fall," wrote Reps. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wisc.), who chairs the Judiciary Committee, Christopher Cox (R-Calif.), who heads the Homeland Security Select Committee, and Tom Davis (R-Va.), who chairs the Government Reform Committee.

The SAFETY Act was enacted to eliminate or reduce tort liability for companies that develop advanced technologies used in high-risk situations — for example, chemical and biological environmental sensors — should lawsuits arise after an act of terrorism.

Companies have their products designated and certified by DHS in a review process that was supposed to be "simple and straightforward — a means of facilitating transactions, not erecting additional barriers to deployment."

Staffers from the lawmakers and the department met several times to discuss how to advance implementation of the act. In the letter, the lawmakers outlined how DHS officials could expedite the process by prioritizing technologies for the most serious threats and during a heightened risk or current terrorism alert, among several other recommendations.

"Nobody wants developing technologies that can detect or prevent acts of terrorism involving biological, chemical, nuclear and other potentially devastating weapons to be stuck in the approval pipeline at [DHS] and not protecting the American public," said Sensenbrenner in a prepared statement.

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