Important hearings for the Science and Technology Directorate of the new Department of Homeland Security were held last Thursday. The new Under Secretary for Science and Technology, Charles E. McQueary, was the sole witness at both the House and Senate Appropriations Subcommittees on Homeland Security. Committee members reacted very favorably to McQueary.
McQueary was sworn in only the day before these hearings. Before coming to this position he was the President of General Dynamics Advanced Technology Systems, and had also served at AT&T, Lucent Technologies, and as a Director for AT&T Bell Laboratories. McQueary has a Ph.D. in Engineering Mechanics from the University of Texas.
The new Department of Homeland Security has five directorates. The Administration requested $803 million for the Science and Technology Directorate for FY 2004, approximately 1/50 of the department's entire request.
McQueary has a difficult job. At the morning's well-attended House Appropriations hearing, Subcommittee Chair Harold Rogers (R-KY) told McQueary "everything you do needs to be on a short fuse . . . not [as] an R&D problem for the sake of doing R&D . . . we are looking to you for solutions . . . we want them fast." Ranking Minority Member Martin Sabo (D-MN) agreed with Rogers that program goals and milestones had to be established quickly, as the directorate could do a lot of good, or waste a lot of money. Rogers added that the subcommittee would not set policy direction, but would make its funding decisions based on the Directorate's planning, performance, and progress. The subcommittee would be fair, the chairman said, but had high expectations. Similar admonishments were made in the afternoon Senate hearing, especially in regard to performance measurements.
In addition to technological challenges, McQueary must now staff his operation - "a person at a time" - while working with an untested budget request. There were, as expected, questions about the Directorate's request. "The amount of money we have is adequate," he testified. Of the $803 million budget request, $350 million is for the Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency that will "explore cutting edge approaches to assessing current and emerging threats." McQueary expects this unit to be operational around October 1, but cannot predict how many employees it will have. He is now interviewing candidates to head HSARPA.
Senate Subcommittee Appropriations Chairman Thad Cochran (R-MS) asked how the directorate will interact with other agencies such as the Coast Guard or Postal Service. McQueary assured the chairman that he was working closely with them, later adding that he had "already established a very close relationship with Dr. John Marburger." In response to Cochran's question about the designation of university centers of excellence for homeland security research, McQueary responded that it was unlikely that a single university would have expertise in all areas. "My personal preference is to do an early assessment of where the best work is being done in the areas of counter terrorism interests and then choose centers of excellence based upon that judgement," he said, adding "I would certainly expect that we will call upon the scientific community to help us render that judgement."
In addition to management and budget issues, appropriators asked about specific threats to homeland security. To the question of "what keeps you up at night," McQueary responded that biological attacks had the potential to do a great deal of harm with a relatively small amount of information. A major concern was the detection of explosives carried by suicide bombers, which McQueary predicted would become feasible. Concerns mentioned by the appropriators were shoulder-fired missiles that could down a commercial plane, port security, agricultural damage, dirty bombs, biological warfare, attacks on nuclear and chemical plants, biometric identification systems for border control, and cybersecurity. One appropriator commented that "the possibilities are just mind- boggling."
As compared to almost all congressional hearings, the atmosphere in these hearings was much more somber. As McQueary told Senate Ranking Minority Member Robert Byrd (D-WVA), "the country has decided we are not adequately protected and we have work to be done." The collective reaction of the appropriators to McQueary is perhaps best summarized by Chairman Rogers, who began the House hearing by telling the Under Secretary that the subcommittee would decide to fund, or not to fund, the Directorate's request. In concluding the hearing, Rogers told McQueary that the subcommittee was "very pleased with what you are doing with your shop," telling him that he was a "good man in a good place at a good time."