Research official stewards anti-terrorism complex

A Homeland Security Department official charged with research and development compared today's efforts with the nation's activities 60 years ago during the advent of nuclear weapons.

"I have a responsibility for what I call federal stewardship," the department's research and development Director Maureen McCarthy said in an interview last week. She said she is tasked with the responsibility to build a homeland security complex -- much like the nuclear weapons complex -- to respond to the country's needs in the future.

The nation's nuclear investments created a complex that became the key element of deterrence to nuclear war, she said. "And that's what my goal is [now] ... to create the breadth and the depth of dedicated people in state-of-the-art facilities with government funded programs working on the really hard problems. So that at the end of the day we become a deterrent to terrorism."

McCarthy spoke with National Journal's Technology Daily reporters last week in a round of interviews that also included Homeland Security officials like Charles McQueary, undersecretary for science and technology.

McCarthy said Homeland Security's science and technology division carries the lead advocacy for anti-terrorism technologies by focusing on key portfolios, including border and transportation security, intelligence analysis, critical infrastructure, and emergency preparedness and response. She said officials prioritize each portfolio using a "threat matrix" to identify the most dangerous and difficult terrorist threats.

The division's programs, plans and budgets office coordinates with the department's 22 different agencies -- such as the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and Coast Guard -- to identify and prioritize their technological needs. The unit then passes those requirements on to the three execution offices: R&D, HSARPA and systems engineering.

Thus research officials are not hunting for the latest new gadgets, she said, because the science and the tech division needs to deploy technology for an operational environment. The division has to bridge the two missions of homeland security: its traditional activities - search and rescue, border patrol, etc. -- with the need for preparation and response efforts related to terrorist threats.

She also said the division would not invest in fundamental science but plans to work with organizations such as the Energy and Defense departments and the National Science Foundation (NSF) that support fundamental science research.

Homeland Security's R&D component, according to McCarthy, invests in technologies not otherwise funded by the private sector, primarily those designed to counter and characterize threats of chemical, biological, nuclear and radiological terrorism.

McCarthy also is working on a congressionally mandated report on a management plan to merge the various Homeland Security agencies' R&D activities. The first portion of the report -- required in the department's fiscal 2004 spending bill -- is due Feb. 15.

While McCarthy believes in a coordinated R&D effort, she also wants each R&D division to remain connected to operation officials. "You don't want to rip them away from connections with operational end users," she said. "They know what it's like to work with a custom or border official."

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