Homeland Security:

DHS Needs a Strategy to Use DOE's Laboratories for Research on Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Detection and Response Technologies

GAO-04-653: Published: May 24, 2004. Publicly Released: May 24, 2004.

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Success in the war against terrorism requires the United States to effectively research, develop, and deploy technologies to detect and respond to the use of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. The Homeland Security Act of 2002 gave the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) the ability to use laboratories owned by the Department of Energy (DOE) to conduct research and development (R&D) of these advanced technologies. GAO was asked to determine (1) whether DHS has completed a strategic R&D plan and coordinated its efforts with other federal agencies, (2) how DHS plans to use DOE's laboratories to carry out its R&D, and (3) what controls DHS is establishing to monitor projects at DOE's laboratories.

DHS has not yet completed a strategic plan to identify priorities, goals, objectives, and policies for the R&D of homeland security technologies, and some gaps remain in its coordination with other federal agencies. According to DHS officials, the department has not completed a research strategic plan because it has spent much of the time since its March 2003 creation organizing the Science and Technology Directorate, developing policies and procedures, and hiring necessary staff. DHS has worked with some interagency R&D groups and has signed a memorandum of agreement with DOE establishing policies for resolving priority conflicts at DOE's laboratories, but gaps remain in its efforts to coordinate and establish partnerships with other agencies conducting homeland security R&D. Failure to complete a strategic plan and to fully coordinate its research efforts may limit DHS's ability to leverage resources and could increase the potential for duplication of research. DHS's research program has concentrated on funding projects at five DOE laboratories. These five laboratories--Los Alamos, Sandia, Lawrence Livermore, Pacific Northwest, and Oak Ridge National Laboratories-- received over 96 percent of the $57 million DHS invested in research at DOE's laboratories in fiscal year 2003 and will receive almost 90 percent of the $201 million for fiscal year 2004. At the time of our review, the remaining DOE laboratories would receive DHS R&D funding primarily through competition with the private sector and academia. Although federal acquisition regulations generally prohibit DOE's laboratories from competing with the private sector and academia for federal funding, some competition can occur under specific circumstances. For example, DOE's laboratories can respond to R&D solicitations with the private sector and academia for broad scientific study for advancing the state of the art or for increasing knowledge. Some DOE laboratory officials feel that if DHS focuses on short-term, applied research, their laboratories' ability to attract and retain top scientific talent and build and maintain laboratory facilities may be threatened. In response to concerns from Members of Congress and officials from DOE's laboratories, DHS announced in March 2004 that it would review its policies for working with DOE's laboratories. DHS officials have also agreed that it is necessary to make long-term investments in laboratory capabilities in order to create an enduring R&D complex for homeland security. DHS is making progress developing the project management tools it will use to monitor project costs, milestones, and deliverables. Monthly reports will discuss project accomplishments and concerns that could affect the execution of the project. Quantitative performance metrics are also being developed for these monthly reports to gauge differences between budgeted and actual cost and schedules of R&D work performed. Also, DHS plans to conduct regular peer reviews of projects to assess how technical approaches being followed by R&D projects match DHS's requirements.

Status Legend:

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  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To ensure that DHS appropriately integrates its R&D of homeland security technologies with complementary R&D efforts conducted across the federal government and that the extensive capabilities of DOE's laboratories can be brought to bear on the R&D of nuclear, biological, and chemical countermeasures, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Under Secretary for Science and Technology to develop and communicate to DOE's laboratories and other potential contributors to homeland security R&D efforts well-defined criteria for distributing annual project funding and for making long-term investments in laboratory capabilities for homeland security R&D.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Science and Technology

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In its March 2008 strategic research and development plan, the Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate laid out a matrix that contained the department's criteria for distributing project funding and for making investments in laboratory capabilities. Specifically, the plan noted that the directorate would devote about 20 percent of its annual budget to long-term basic research conducted primarily in universities and laboratories. About 10 percent of its funding would be devoted to higher-risk prototypical and innovative demonstrations that "push the envelope." Most of these projects would be overseen by the Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency (HSARPA). Fifty percent of the directorate's funding would be devoted to transitioning lower-risk research projects into commercialization in order to meet DHS's customers' needs. The remainder of the budget would be devoted to specific projects at Congressional and/or Presidential direction. In addition, the plan laid out the process by which DHS's "Integrated Product Teams" would determine operational requirements, assess current capabilities to meet operational needs, analyze gaps in capabilities, and develop programs and projects to fill the gaps.

    Recommendation: To ensure that DHS appropriately integrates its R&D of homeland security technologies with complementary R&D efforts conducted across the federal government and that the extensive capabilities of DOE's laboratories can be brought to bear on the R&D of nuclear, biological, and chemical countermeasures, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Under Secretary for Science and Technology to ensure that this strategic plan is integrated with homeland security R&D efforts conducted by other federal agencies, such as NNSA, HHS, and the Department of Defense. This integrated strategic plan should detail how DHS will work with these agencies to establish government-wide priorities, identify research gaps, avoid duplication of effort, and leverage resources.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Science and Technology

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Homeland Security's March 2008 strategic research and development plan discusses the Science and Technology Directorate's Interagency Programs Division. The purpose of this division is to coordinate with other U.S. Executive Branch agencies to identify unmet needs, avoid duplication, and collaborate with science and technology communities throughout the government for solutions. For example, DHS is teaming with the Department of Defense to address overlaps and gaps in meeting civilian security and military defense science and technology needs. The division also develops, in coordination with other executive agencies, the government's national policy and strategic plan to identify, establish, and communicate priorities, goals, and objectives regarding countermeasures to chemical, biological, and other emerging terrorist threats.

    Recommendation: To ensure that DHS appropriately integrates its R&D of homeland security technologies with complementary R&D efforts conducted across the federal government and that the extensive capabilities of DOE's laboratories can be brought to bear on the R&D of nuclear, biological, and chemical countermeasures, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Under Secretary for Science and Technology to, consistent with the Homeland Security Act of 2002, complete a strategic R&D plan that identifies priorities, goals, and objectives to identify and develop countermeasures to chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and other emerging terrorist threats.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Science and Technology

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In March 2008, the Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate issued a strategic research and development plan entitled "Science and Technology for a Safer Nation." The plan lays out the department's overall priorities along with specific goals and objectives for the research and development of technology and countermeasures to address chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and other terrorist threats such as the threats posed by shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles.

    Recommendation: To ensure that DHS appropriately integrates its R&D of homeland security technologies with complementary R&D efforts conducted across the federal government and that the extensive capabilities of DOE's laboratories can be brought to bear on the R&D of nuclear, biological, and chemical countermeasures, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Under Secretary for Science and Technology to develop, in cooperation with DOE, specific guidelines that detail the circumstances under which DOE laboratories and other federal R&D programs would compete for contracts with private sector and academic entities. These guidelines should describe the criteria used to select proposals, detail the method of evaluation, and contain procedures DOE's laboratories should use to ensure compliance with federal acquisition regulations and statutory requirements.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Science and Technology

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In May 2007, the Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate established the SECURE program. The program is designed to inform private sector participants of the conditions under which they can cooperate with the Department of Homeland Security and the federal laboratories it works with. The SECURE program contains guidance on how private sector firms can compete with DOE laboratories and other federal research and development programs. The SECURE program works in conjunction with the directorate's strategic research and development plan issued in March 2008. The March 2008 plan described the criteria the directorate uses to select project proposals--how the proposals are evaluated. The plan also contained information on the performance measures the directorate plans to use on projects to ensure they are completed on time and in a cost effective manner. The SECURE program and the strategic plan are designed to, among other things, provide the private sector with guidance on how to compete with the DOE and other federal labs in homeland security science and technology R&D. Although our recommendation was intended for DHS to provide this guidance to DOE and other federal labs, the directorate's actions in implementing the SECURE program and the completing its strategic research and development plan meets the spirit of the recommendation and we are therefore closing it as implemented.

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