House lawmakers blast security department's science chief

One year after creation of the Homeland Security Department, patience for the department's science and technology directorate appears to have run out on Capitol Hill.

Directorate chief Charles McQueary faced brusque treatment at the hands of appropriators Tuesday. "I think you can sense the level of frustration in your funding committee," said House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky.

McQueary's lack of knowledge that his office is expected to produce a review of the nation's airline security system by May provoked Rogers.

"I'm absolutely more than troubled. I'm irate," Rogers said after McQueary said he had not been approached by Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge on the issue. Rogers said that in a "heated" November meeting, Ridge had promised to direct McQueary to conduct the review because the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is to blame for continued inconveniences and risk to passengers.

"You will get back to me by the close of the secretary's day," Rogers said to McQueary. "Well, that's strike one."

But the harshest words came from Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., who attacked Maureen McCarthy, the science and technology division's research and development director. Wamp said McCarthy had promised in a meeting to offer projects valued at $40 million to $60 million to Oak Ridge Laboratory, which is in his district, but it has been offered projects totaling only $7.4 million.

"This has been a debacle under McCarthy's leadership and direction," Wamp said. "Somebody is not hearing the whole story. I'm afraid it's you, not me."

McQueary steadfastly defended McCarthy and said there is so much misunderstanding over the laboratory-selection process that it had to be modified.

"I'm very concerned about the future of this directorate" Wamp replied.

McQueary then said, "Sir, I want to tell you that not a single other member of Congress besides yourself has tried to bring pressure on me about how we spend money on the national labs."

McQueary also was criticized for his decision to stay out of the selection process for university "centers of excellence" until the final stages involving site visits, and he was pressed to say that the decision by the White House Office of Management and Budget to cut funding for the centers was not based on a detailed analysis of the security risks involved.

McQueary said that relevant entities, including the Agriculture Department, are involved in the centers selection. He said he was "stunned" to learn from Rep. Tom Latham, R-Iowa, that Agriculture officials say they have been left out of the process.

"I share Mr. Wamp's concern about the direction we're going here," Latham said. He said his district contains the top center for plant diseases but "can't even get a site visit" from the agency. "I don't get it," Latham said.

McQueary said the decisions are based on the quality of the proposals received. "Some people can write good proposals and some people can't," he said, adding that a screening process is the only way to manage the nearly 1,800 potentially eligible centers.