Important Hearings on Homeland Security S&T Program

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Publication date: 
11 March 2004

Although the Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate is less than a year old, it is the eighth largest R&D budget in the federal government. And while most other R&D agencies have FY 2005 budget requests ranging from cuts to increases of a few percentage points, the directorate's request is up 13.9%. The amount of funding in this year's budget allocated to basic research is 15.0%, with the administration seeking a decrease in the proportionate share of funding for this research in FY 2005 to 8.4% of the total budget.

Within the last two weeks, Charles E. McQueary, Under Secretary for Science and Technology for the Department of Homeland Security, has testified before a House authorization committee and the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security. At both hearings the reception he was given was friendly and supportive. The common message to McQueary in both of these hearings was similar: do it now.

The senators and representatives on these committees are acutely aware of the terrorist threat facing the United States, as they go to work every day on an increasingly fortified Capitol Hill. If there was any complaint about the directorate's programs, activities or budgets, it was that not enough is being done quickly enough to deploy new systems.

Committee members' questions reflected this attitude. They wanted to know about systems to protect cities against biological attacks, inter-operational communication systems for first responders, defeating shoulder-fired missiles fired at commercial airliners, protecting industrial facilities such as chemical plants, port security, border integrity, border inspections and information sharing.

During the February 25 hearing of the House Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Science, and Research & Development, McQueary was asked about the percentage of his budget devoted to basic research. He acknowledged that basic research funding would drop from the current $117 million to $80 million in FY 2005, from a proportionate share of 15.0% of the directorate's budget to 8.4%. He said that "overtime [this budget] will evolve into more fundamental research," adding the words "appropriately so." His written testimony elaborates on this point:

"In the 11 months that this Department has been in existence, the Science and Technology Directorate has focused its initial efforts on near-term development and deployment of technologies to improve our nation's ability to detect and respond to potential terrorist acts. However, we recognize that a sustained effort to continually add to our knowledge base and our resource base is necessary for future developments. Thus, we have invested a portion of our resources, including our university programs, toward these objectives. . . . Our initial expenditures in basic research are heavily weighted by our investments in university programs. These university programs will not only provide new information relevant to homeland security, but will also provide a workforce of people who are cognizant of the needs of homeland security, especially in areas of risk analysis, animal-related agro-terrorism, bioforensics, cybersecurity, disaster modeling, and psychological and behavioral analysis. We expect to gradually increase our total percentage of basic and applied research to the level needed for sustaining our role as a research, development, testing and evaluation (RDT&E) organization."

Regarding university and fellowship programs, McQueary testified that the first University-based Center of Excellence was established at the University of Southern California. Its mission, he stated, is to "assess the level of risk associated with various terrorist scenarios, in particular the potential economic consequences." Two more centers are to be established, centering on Foreign Animal and Zoonotic Disease Defense and Post-Harvest Food Protection and Defense. The directorate has also awarded 100 Scholarships and Fellowships selected from approximately 2,500 applicants. FY 2005 funding has been requested for 100 additional Scholars and Fellows

Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) asked McQueary why the administration requested a 50% cut in funding for the fellowship program. Byrd noted that the appropriations committee wants the university community to play a major role in homeland security research. McQueary explained that there had been "considerable internal debate" about this decision, and that it reached a point, he said, where "it was time for me salute and say 'yes sir" . . . and [then] do the best we can." Most of the increase that the administration has requested for next year is for biological countermeasure systems for cities identified for being at highest risk.

McQueary will appear before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, chaired by Rep. Harold Rogers (R-KY), on March 30.