House wants to fine-tune DHS research strategy

House lawmakers plan to provide the Homeland Security Department's Science and Technology directorate with about $850 million in fiscal 2008, matching its fiscal 2007 spending -- but members of one House commitee want to add some caveats.

The directorate, DHS' primary research and development arm, funds projects involving everything from technology to secure the U.S. border and ports to cargo security efforts in the near, medium and long-term.

With several DHS technology-driven projects facing highly publicized delays, members from both sides of the aisle in House’s Science and Technology Committee are supporting legislation to steer the department’s planning and research.

In March, DHS’ Under Secretary for the Science and Technology Directorate, Jay Cohen, told members of the House Appropriations Committee’s Homeland Security Subcommittee that the directorate planned to spend half of its 2008 funding on projects that would pay off in a maximum of three years. These projects would be part of a transition portfolio, delivering technology to support the department's acquisition programs.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Ralph Hall (R-Texas), the House's Science and Technology Committee's ranking member, would require the directorate to clearly define the cost and operational requirements of the transition portfolio projects. It also would mandate more research in the areas of unmanned aerial vehicles, tunnel detection and anti-counterfeit technologies. It also directs the National Research Council conduct an assessment of border and security needs.

“The sections in this bill reflect a single underlying theme: the Science and Technology Directorate at DHS needs to establish long-term goals and objectives for border security and broaden science and technology community involvement,” Hall said at a hearing about his bill in November.

The legislation would also extend through 2012,  the life of the Homeland Security Science and Technology Advisory Committee — an interdisciplinary committee of 20 experts that advises the S&T directorate’s executives.

At the March hearing, Cohen also told House appropriators earlier in the year that the directorate was planning on spending $60 million -- just less than 10 percent of the $800 million it had requested, on innovation projects — high-risk projects that if successful will have an immediate significant impact in 2008. About 13 percent of its budget would go toward long-term projects in its basic research portfolio, he said.

David Wu, chairman of the Science and Technology Committee’s Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation —the subcommittee that held the hearing on Hall’s bill -- said he thinks DHS’ research should have more of long-term focus.

“We can’t do an effective job if they are always firefighting,” said David Wu (D-Ore.) after the hearing. “What I want to stop hearing about is the deployment of technology that is not useful to end-users.”

The bill, H.R. 3916, will likely be marked up early next session according to Committee staff.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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