DHS Research and Development Under Scrutiny

By Steff Thomas

There are 35 cases of overlapping research-and-development programs totaling about $66 million at the Department of Homeland Security, the Government Accountability Office has found.

There is a lack of visibility on who is working on what projects across the 22 agencies, Dave Maurer, GAO director of homeland security and justice issues, testified on Capitol Hill.

In many cases, one agency was working on similar studies without necessarily being informed of the other’s research, he said.

“It is hard to be strategic and have a good perspective on what you’re spending your money on if you don’t have good visibility of who’s doing what. And it’s really important that the taxpayers are getting the most out of every single one of those dollars,” Maurer said before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

Within DHS, the science and technology directorate oversees and coordinates R&D throughout the homeland security apparatus. However, research efforts were found to be fragmented across the department. One problem is that the department lacks a common definition for what R&D actually is, Maurer said.

“Having a common definition for such a large organization as DHS will help enable better strategic visibility over R&D activities,” he added.

DHS spends more than $1 billion a year annually on R&D activities and in 2011, GAO identified an additional $255 million in R&D activity that wasn’t captured in the standard documents provided to Congress, Maurer said.

Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del., chairman of the committee, called the directorate “a key part of the Department of Homeland Security’s efforts.” It is critical for the division to work aggressively and effectively with the other components of the department and first responders to find solutions that allow DHS and its partners to operate more efficiently even with a diminishing budget, he said.

“Threats to our national security evolve constantly. So too, then, must the strategies and technologies we use to combat them,” he added.

Suggestions from GAO and Congress have led the science and technology directorate to make changes in its development and operations.

The division’s new R&D goals focus on choosing only projects that create a high operational impact, have a rapid transition into operational use and present a high return on investment, said Tara O’ Toole, undersecretary for science and technology at DHS.

Since the directorate was stood up after the creation of the department, “S&T has undergone many changes and continues to evolve,” she said.

Its projects now go through what is called “technology-foraging,” a process involving a review of existing items or research that may be a full or partial solution to a problem, or contribute in some way to the project under contemplation, O’Toole said.

“We actively seek technologies in which others have already invested, which S&T can adapt, evolve, or apply to DHS and first responder needs. This approach speeds transition and drives down cost,” she said.

Technology-foraging and strong R&D cooperation with other organizations have become part of the way the directorate works, she said.

Maurer said the entire department has to get on board with the importance of cooperative research and development.

“R&D is really the bridge between the scientific and engineering expertise that exists within the United States and the ability to address a wide variety of homeland security threats,” Maurer said. “To put it simply, good R&D helps make the country safer.”

Topics: Homeland Security, DHS Budget, DHS Policy, Science and Technology, Science and Engineering Technology, Homeland Security

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