DHS science chief vows more accountability, innovation

Armed with promises of increased accountability -- and a table full of props -- the head of the Homeland Security Department's Science and Technology Directorate told lawmakers Wednesday that his realigned agency would better serve the nation's security needs than it has previously.

Former Adm. Jay Cohen appeared before the House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee to answer questions about the progress of technology developments and how to prioritize research investments.

Cohen acknowledged the previous structure had led to inefficiencies, but said the new organization -- which divides the directorate into six technical areas -- is already working to help with planning to target risks.

Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman David Price, D-N.C., commended the changes, but expressed concern with a decrease in funding for Centers of Excellence at universities that conduct research on homeland security needs. Cohen said that four new centers will be established over the next two fiscal years.

"I will not ask them to do more with less," Cohen said, explaining that the Centers of Excellence would be closely aligned with the technical divisions of the directorate.

Several members asked for a progress report on technologies to address concerns such as port security. Cohen said an "advanced container security device" to scan containers for dangerous materials is likely two years away.

As a way to explain the difficulties with detecting dangerous contents in containers, Cohen held up a piece of a steel container, explaining that sensors are not as effective reading through steel. He then showed lawmakers a composite material that would make detection easier, which he said researchers are working on.

Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member Harold Rogers, R-Ky., expressed frustration that such tools were not in wide use. "I cannot for the life of me understand why we can't do this," he said.

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