House: DOD, DHS must share more technology

The Defense and Homeland Security departments must do more to ensure that applicable counter-terrorism technologies reach first responders, lawmakers said yesterday.

In their first joint hearing, the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Terrorism, Unconventional Threats and Capabilities and the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Science and Technology met to discuss how the two departments could optimally utilize each other’s technological expertise.

“Not everything done by DOD is directly applicable to DHS and first responder needs, but much clearly is,” said Rep. Jim Saxton (R-N.J.), subcommittee chairman.

Saxton suggested formalizing the current informal sharing process. “We don’t want to create unnecessary bureaucracy, but we need to be assured that the good ideas developed by each is made available – and most importantly, seriously considered – by the other,” he said.

Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-N.J.), the ranking Democrat on the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Science and Technology, said he had misgivings about how the two departments currently sharing their technology and information.

“For all the good work DOD has done, I’m concerned,” Pascrell said. “It is utterly unclear to me what role, if any, DHS has” in technology transfer. DHS lacks a long-term vision to coordinate with DOD on sharing homeland security and counterintelligence technology, he said. And “DHS must be aware of relevant research being done by DOD so we don’t fund redundant research,” he added.

DOD has and will continue to adapt its existing technologies for use by first responders, said Sue Payton, deputy undersecretary of defense for advanced systems and concepts. For example, DOD developed backscatter X-ray systems for explosives detection and in-helmet communications equipment for Navy SEALs, both of which first responders now use, she said.

DOD has also created an online information-sharing network that the U.S. Coast Guard, a unit of DHS, is now using, Payton said. The Area Security Operations Command and Control (ASOCC) system enables federal, state and local disaster-response systems to communicate and share data in real time, she said.

DOD has established a program at the University of Pittsburgh, called Firstlink, to identify DOD technologies of potential use to first responders, Payton said. Firstlink also helps promote the commercialization of those technologies and acts as a liaison to the responder community, she said.

DOD has created a “Blueprint” for the systematic transfer of DOD technology to public safety providers through DHS and DOJ, said Peter Verga, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense and DOD’s chief of transferring its homeland security technology to first responders.

The pilot program has inventoried hundreds of potentially useful items and fast-tracked the most promising for distribution, Verga said. DOD and DHS are scheduled to sign a Memorandum of Understanding this fall that outlines roles and responsibilities under the Blueprint, he said.

DHS, DOJ and DOD committed to the Blueprint last December and set up an outline for a technology transfer process, said John Kubricky, director of the Office of Systems Engineering and Development in DHS’ Science & Technology Directorate and acting director of the Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency (HSARPA).

Tony Tether, director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), said that many people working in Science & Technology and HSARPA used to work in his agency. That makes collaboration and technology sharing easier for both departments, he said.

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