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Policy

DHS REVISES RESEARCH PLAN

Political pressure leads to a reversal on national labs' eligibility

by LOIS EMBER
March 22, 2004 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 82, ISSUE 12

McQueary
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Credit: DHS PHOTO
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Credit: DHS PHOTO

Leadership in the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Science & Technology Directorate has bowed to political pressure and jettisoned a plan forged late last year to divvy up security research among the Department of Energy's eight national laboratories.

Initially, the directorate assigned the five DOE weapons labs—Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos, Oak Ridge, Pacific Northwest, and Sandia—to its $120 million intramural program, making them eligible to compete for and carry out homeland-security-related classified research. Three other national labs—Argonne, Brookhaven, and Idaho National Environmental & Engineering—were assigned to the directorate's $213 million extramural program and would have had to compete with the private sector for DHS contracts.

This two-tier plan was perceived as treating the intramural labs as special and placing theextramural labs at a funding disadvantage. Pressure from congressional delegations representing the three extramural labs spurred DHS's decision to allow all of the labs to compete equally for all homeland security research. House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood L. Boehlert (R-N.Y.), who represents Brookhaven's district, called the reversal ";a big win ... for common sense.

But the reversal also glosses over a detriment. As Nancy B. Jackson, a Sandia manager, points out, ";This political infighting is what makes DHS so slow in getting programs started.

Much of DHS's R&D efforts are heavily weighted to near-term development and deployment of counterterrorism technologies. At a congressional hearing, Charles E. McQueary, DHS undersecretary for science and technology, admitted that basic research funding was—at least initially—being shortchanged. He noted that basic research funding would drop to $80 million in fiscal 2005 from its current level of $117 million. But, he said, the directorate's research emphasis over time would ";evolve into more fundamental research" and the funding would go back up.

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