DHS Science and Technology Directorate Faces Near Annihilation

By Stew Magnuson
The budget being proposed by the House for the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate is so bare bones it would essentially terminate most of the research and development in the department, the head of the division said.

“It is basically a decision not to have an S&T directorate,” Tara O’Toole, undersecretary of the division, said of the proposed House cuts.

There is a point where DHS would no longer have a credible science and technology directorate, O’Toole testified before the House Homeland Security Committee’s cybersecurity, infrastructure protection and security technology subcommittee.

The $398 million the House budget proposes for fiscal year 2012 would be a record low investment in R&D. Of that amount, more than half must be spent to maintain laboratories and on other mandatory spending. That leaves $106 million for discretionary R&D, amounting to an 80 percent cut over the last fiscal year, O’Toole said.

Half of the $106 million would be needed to pay for existing commitments and to shut down projects it could no longer afford.

“This would be a very dire set of circumstances for DHS,” she said.

The directorate would be left with $45 million to support all R&D investments, which would only fund Transportation Security Administration projects, she said. Cybersecurity, chemical-biological, border security, cargo security and first responder research would “all go away.”

“There would be no money for any of that,” she added.

Charles Kieffer, staff director at the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on homeland security, said the directorate’s budget is going to go down, although he predicted that it won’t be as bad as the House version of the bill.

He declined to give specific numbers because negotiations between the House and Senate bills were still under way.

“It obviously is not going to be the level that is in the House bill, but I’m not in a position to say what it’s going to be.”

The Senate’s proposed $657 million budget would leave it as a viable R&D organization, “but barely,” O’Toole said. At that level, the directorate could only focus on four priority areas: transportation security, biological, cybersecurity and first responder needs, but nothing else, she testified.

DHS is the only department that carries out research and development for first responder technologies, she added.

In order to achieve a critical mass and make achievements, R&D funding cannot be spread thinly like “peanut butter” over several categories, she said.

The new National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility in Manhattan, Kan., would be eliminated in both chambers’ bills, O’Toole noted. It would leave the nation without a high-containment laboratory capable of handling contagious foreign animal diseases.

Small Business Innovation Research grants would shrink from 60 to four, she said. Many of the companies that rely on those grants would go out of business, she added.

Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on homeland security, said in a speech a week after the hearing that DHS will have to show near-term results. “How we do research and development has to change because of the current economic environment,” he said. The department will have to invest with clear, definable goals and it can’t “just throw money blindly at projects.”

While it is important, it is not as critical as supporting Border Patrol agents, Customs and Border Protection officers and Coast Guard personnel as they carry out their daily duties, he said.

“It is not an operational or frontline activity. It is a scalable function,” he said of R&D.

Kieffer said investment in future technologies must continue. Threats, whether they are natural disasters or terrorism, don’t go away; they evolve, he said.

“If we don’t get ahead of [them], we will have history repeat itself.”

Topics: Homeland Security, DHS Budget, Science and Technology

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