Lieberman decries duplicative anti-nuke efforts at DHS

Creating a new Domestic Nuclear Detection Office reporting directly to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff is a "stovepiped" strategy that is likely to undermine the department's existing scientific research, according to Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.).

"By failing to build on the assets we have, duplicating infrastructure and taking a stovepiped approach to research and development, I'm concerned that the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office would not tackle the problem but instead risk slowing down our ability to address this threat," Lieberman wrote to Chertoff in a letter dated June 10 but released last Friday.

The new nuclear detection office proposed by the White House is intended to combine Homeland Security, Defense, Energy and Justice department research on developing systems to detect and block unauthorized use of nuclear materials. Supporters call it a "mini-Manhattan Project" intended to focus immediate attention on a critical need.

President Bush was seeking $227 million to create the office in 2006. However, the House cut that figure to $127 million, and the Senate has not approved a final budget yet.

But the new office, due to "unintended consequences," has the potential to delay progress in nuclear detection research that already is occurring at the department, according to Lieberman.

Because it would report directly to the secretary, the new office would compete for resources and authority with DHS' Science & Technology [S&T] Directorate and its Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency (HSARPA). That conflicts with what Congress intended in creating the department in 2002 when it established HSARPA as "the primary driver" of homeland security research and development, Lieberman wrote.

The directorate and HSARPA currently are pursuing research in nuclear detection under a "cross-cutting, integrated" approach that coordinates with the study of other weapons of mass destruction, including chemical, biological, radiological and high-explosive threats. "I fear losing the synergy that are [sic] the hallmarks of an integrated approach," Lieberman wrote.

Furthermore, little or no evidence has been presented that the existing efforts are ineffective, and that the new office will not duplicate existing efforts, Lieberman wrote.

"The administration has provided insufficient justification for a second research and development organization to coordinate, direct and fund research and development related to radiological and nuclear detection," Lieberman said. Nor has the administration "demonstrated that the existing offices of the S&T [Directorate] cannot continue to perform these tasks," he said in the letter.

Also likely to cause delays are the new office's "ambiguous and unclear" relationships with other anti-terrorism units, including DHS' Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection Directorate and the new office of the Director of National Intelligence, Lieberman added.

"Doing everything possible to deter and detect the threat of a nuclear or radiological terrorist attack is of extraordinary importance," Lieberman wrote in the letter. But, he adds, "I fear the administration's proposal falls far short."

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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