Members of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security gave Charles McQueary a warm reception at last week's hearing on the FY 2006 S&T request. McQueary is Under Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate.
"Since the creation of the Science and Technology Directorate two years ago, you have made tremendous progress in getting the agency organized and running," subcommittee chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) told McQueary. "I am pleased with the approach you are taking to meet the Directorate's challenges. . . . This is not an easy task and I commend your work so far."
McQueary's testimony was straightforward, and it paid dividends. For example, the subcommittee had requested that the Directorate provide several status reports, many of which have not been completed. In responding to Rogers' inquiry about the missing reports, McQueary replied that the delay was "unacceptable," saying he accepted the criticism. McQueary assured the subcommittee that he was working to complete the reports as soon as possible, and was taking steps to assure future timeliness. "I want to be viewed as responsive, timely and accurate," he told the subcommittee. Members appeared to accept these assurances.
The appropriators had a wide range of concerns. Rogers asked about the risk of spent nuclear fuel rod storage facilities at generating plants, and the status of a report on airline security. Ranking Minority Member Martin Sabo (D-MN) asked about liability issues, airline cargo screening, border security, and radio interoperability. Zach Wamp (R-TN), who a year ago had a fairly sharp exchange with McQueary, expressed gratitude to the secretary for his continued service in this highly demanding position, and for his fast-tracking of research on a system for detecting hazardous substances in shipments bound for the United States. Wamp was also interested in the status of a new radiation exposure standard. Marion Berry (D-AK) discussed how trained dogs remain the most effective means of detecting certain dangerous substances, advocating for more dogs to be fielded. Jo Ann Emerson (R-M) spoke for many when she asked about how best to deploy technologies more quickly, while Chet Edwards (D-TX) inquired about research on methods to detect nuclear smuggling. Tom Latham (R-IA) asked about the status of animal vaccine research. Improving port security was the focus of Lucille Roybal-Allard's (D-CA) questions. Toward the end of the hearing, Sabo asked the status of new University Centers of Excellence. McQueary replied that the research areas for the new centers would be selected by the end of FY 2006.
At one point, McQueary was asked how much of his Directorate's initial FY 2006 request to the Office of Management and Budget had been approved. McQueary replied that OMB approved all of the requested money except for a few million dollars, saying the reduction amounted to "nothing major." (The FY 2006 request was $1,368.4 million, an increase of 22.7%.) Latham commented, "you are an amazing person," a characterization that is not frequently heard at appropriations hearings.