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DHS: Science & Technology Office Gets Raise

by Glenn Hess
February 27, 2012 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 90, Issue 9

Set at $668 million in fiscal 2012, the budget of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science & Technology Directorate (S&T) would increase 24.4% in 2013, bringing its overall budget back up to $831 million. This increase would restore a significant portion of the funding the directorate lost when Congress trimmed its budget for 2012.

S&T, DHS’s main source of scientific and technological expertise, had a budget of slightly more than $1 billion as recently as fiscal 2010. But as lawmakers cut federal spending in the wake of massive deficits, DHS has been on the chopping block.

The President’s 2013 budget plan calls for S&T to spend $478 million on a variety of R&D programs, including biological defense and cybersecurity. For the 2012 fiscal year, Congress appropriated only $266 million for these initiatives.

Under the Administration’s proposal, the largest amount—$135 million—would be used to develop tools to detect intentional and natural biologic events, with a focus on point-of-care diagnostic technologies, indoor sensors, and bioforensics.

S&T would invest $120 million to develop technologies that assist the Transportation Security Administration in detecting explosives. And it would devote $65 million to cybersecurity research, focusing on identity and data privacy technologies, law enforcement forensic capabilities, and software assurance.

The President’s proposal would provide S&T an additional $94 million to resume research in several areas that received little or no funding in fiscal 2012 such as border security, chemical attack resiliency, counterterrorism, and information sharing.

Notably, the Administration recommends that no new funding be allocated for the construction of a biosecurity research lab in Manhattan, Kan. The budget proposal puts in question the future of the National Bio & Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF), which is slated to be built at a site near Kansas State University.

Congress appropriated $50 million of the $150 million the White House sought for NBAF in fiscal 2012. That amount, the Administration says, is not sufficient to begin construction. The project is estimated to cost as much as $1 billion and would replace an aging facility at Plum Island, N.Y.

“In light of this, the Administration will conduct a comprehensive assessment of the project in 2012, which will consider the cost, safety, and any alternatives to the current plan that would reduce costs and ensure safety,” the budget document states.

NBAF critics have questioned the need for the new facility and its high price tag. Rep. Timothy H. Bishop (D-N.Y.), who has been leading an effort to kill the project, says the federal government should continue investing in research at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center, which is located in his Long Island district.

Scientists at Plum Island study more than 40 highly contagious foreign animal diseases and several domestic diseases, including hog cholera and African swine fever. The site was selected in the 1950s because it is located off the U.S. mainland, away from livestock.

“I am pleased that the President’s budget responded to the serious concerns I have expressed about NBAF,” Bishop says. “Even in the best fiscal situation, NBAF as currently proposed would be difficult to justify. In our current climate it is simply unaffordable.”

The decision not to seek additional funding for NBAF does not necessarily kill the project. The White House could add money to the budget for construction in future years, or Congress could provide funding on its own.

Beyond S&T, the Administration is seeking an overall DHS 2013 budget of $39.5 billion, a slight 0.5% decrease from the current $39.7 billion spending level.

Included in some $1.2 billion for infrastructure protection and information security, $75 million of which would go to the Infrastructure Security Compliance Division. The office coordinates and manages activities under the department’s ammonium nitrate and chemical facility security programs.

“The department’s fiscal 2013 budget request preserves core frontline priorities by cutting costs, sharing resources across components, and streamlining operations wherever possible,” Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in a statement. Preventing terrorism and enhancing security remain the department’s top priorities, she added.


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