No Time To Reflect On Sept. 11, DHS Has Its Hands Full - InformationWeek

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06:46 PM

No Time To Reflect On Sept. 11, DHS Has Its Hands Full

Dealing with Hurricane Katrina is the department's major job these days, but progress on its security-related science and technology priorities is unclear.

On the eve of the fourth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, instead of touting a list of accomplishments, the Department of Homeland Security was struggling to cope with Hurricane Katrina and related criticism surrounding government response.

The department's science and technology research and development wing is no exception.

Calls to the press office of Science & Technology Directorate Under Secretary Charles E. McQueary, Ph.D., went unanswered Friday as his sole spokesman left a message saying he was dispatched to handle Katrina-related issues. As the nation prepared to remember the tragedy, other media liaisons said there were no other employees among the 170,000 who work for the department who could comment on the progress or priorities regarding science and technology research.

Members of the senate committee governing the agency were also tied up with the current crisis. The house committee chairmanship is vacant. Congressional staffers were scrambling to keep up with policy matters and media inquiries regarding Katrina.

The directorate, established in 2003, has requested about $1.37 billion for 2006. As the body that oversees federal technology and science efforts within 22 governmental agencies in partnership with dozens of laboratories and universities, receives less money than the $1.8 billion the National Institutes of Health receives for biodefense work alone. It has 387 full time employees, according to its Web site.

The directorate, charged with providing federal, state and local officials with the technology and capabilities to protect the homeland, has prioritized its research and development work to include: dealing with the threat of shoulder-fired missiles, detection and warnings for chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear attacks and securing the food supply.

The department is also trying to combine science and engineering personnel from the Transportation Security Administration, the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and those under DHS' own Directorate of Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection, bringing them all under the S&T directorate.

Areas for improvement also include: cyber security, flight crew vetting, airport and checkpoint screening, data capabilities and information networks.

According to statements from the American Association for the Advancement of Science earlier this year, the federal government was looking to cut threat and vulnerability assessments by 29 percent to $47 million.

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