Looking Ahead: Dept. of Homeland Security S&T Programs

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Publication date: 
1 October 2003

At a briefing yesterday, Charles E. McQueary, Under Secretary for Science and Technology at the Department of Homeland Security, offered his insights on the direction which the Science and Technology Directorate will take in the coming year. McQueary clearly has his hands full as he works to fully staff his directorate and meet wide ranging challenges to America's security.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has five directorates: Border and Transportation Security, Emergency Preparedness and Response, Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection, Management, and Science and Technology. DHS consolidated many government functions and employees, and now has about 180,000 employees. The Science and Technology Directorate began with six employees, and has since grown to 75 employees, many with advanced scientific degrees. Under the DHS authorization, the Directorate will have 180 employees, which McQueary hopes to have in place a year from now. There will also be a "couple of hundred" support contractors. McQueary characterized the operation, now in its sixth month, as a work in progress. Congress recently completed work on the FY 2004 DHS appropriations bill with a large increase for the Science and Technology Directorate; see /fyi/2003/126.html

McQueary described his Directorate's primary function as a supplier of innovative and effective technology to the other DHS directorates. Two or three people from each of the other four directorates work directly with McQueary's Directorate to ensure close alignment of missions. Research areas include radiological and nuclear materials, biological agents, high explosives, systems engineering, and cyber security. McQueary identified systems engineering as "the key issue," as DHS grapples with integrating federal resources to protect a very wide range of possible targets. Also important, he said, was the development of countermeasures standards so that local first responders can ensure that they are purchasing the right equipment.

Protecting America will require the mobilization of the nation's best scientists, McQueary said. Toward this end, the Directorate has established a university program that has offered 101 scholarships and fellowships. The Directorate is also in the process of selecting Centers of Excellence at colleges and universities. Seventy-two white papers were submitted from candidate institutions, which were narrowed to twelve semi-finalists. The first center is to be selected this year. The DHS website states that nine other centers may be named by the end of next year. McQueary noted that selecting these Centers is a complex undertaking, and that the Directorate will be adding one center at a time.

In addition, a Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency, resembling DARPA, has been established to engage private interests. A bidder's conference about an announcement for chemical and biological sensors was held in a large hotel ballroom in Washington this week, and McQueary said that it was standing-room-only. There is, he said, a lot of interest in such work.

The Directorate is also engaging both large and small national laboratories. McQueary praised lawmakers for being foresighted in including legislative language in the DHS act covering the national laboratories. McQueary has been visiting laboratories to assess the roles that they could play in meeting his Directorate's needs, and are on equal footing in the DHS selection process, he said. McQueary is seeking detailees from the laboratories to work in the Directorate. He spoke of the importance of sound technology transfer mechanisms at the labs, and said, in addition, that legislation may be needed to ensure that technology transfer is fully utilized by universities and private businesses.

When asked about the nature of the work to be supported by the Directorate, McQueary said that a series of scientific "hits" will be needed early on to demonstrate the relevance of science and technology to homeland security. This year, he expects that 10-15% of the research the Directorate supports will be on "forward-looking research," as opposed to the application of technology, and that this percentage will increase in the future.

McQueary expects to designate an existing Federally-Funded Research and Development Center to assist his Directorate, but said that not very much has been done so far in this regard. Further information about DHS and its programs can be found at www.dhs.gov

Attending this briefing was Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ), who asked a series of questions to McQueary about how the Directorate would operate, stressing the need for strong coordination. "We have a lot riding on you," Holt said.

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