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Government IT Review - Cynthia L. Webb
DHS Goes Back to School


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By Cynthia L. Webb Staff Writer
Thursday, July 8, 2004; 2:01 PM

What makes terrorists tick? What effect is the constant threat of new terrorist attacks having on American society? If another attack happens, how will people react?

Answering those questions will be the job of a newly envisioned Homeland Security Center of Excellence. The Department of Homeland Security this week called on academia to submit ideas for creating the new terrorism research center, which will be funded with a three-year grant worth $12 million.

The winning school will become the DHS's fourth Center of Excellence. The DHS's other centers are at the University of Southern California, where the focus is on risk and economic analysis of terrorism events; the University of Minnesota National Center, which conducts research on protecting the food supply; and Texas A&M University, where the National Center for Foreign Animal and Zoonotic Disease Defense is located.

DHS hopes scientists can help develop ideas and technology to ward off new terrorist attacks. "In every area of human endeavor, research and development is the engine that drives our nation to a better and brighter future," DHS Secretary Tom Ridge said in prepared remarks Tuesday. "We are relying on everyone in the entire academic community -- and especially at our Centers for Excellence -- to boost our efforts to develop an enduring national research capability in homeland protection."

The DHS issued a so-called broad agency announcement describing the new effort. The agency wants a letter of intent from applicants by July 30 and proposals by Sept. 30. Proposals can be submitted to a special Web site --

Homeland Security is inviting "eligible institutions, partners, and groups of investigators to form consortia capable of mounting a sustained and innovative research and education effort in the specific area of behavioral and social aspects of terrorism and counter-terrorism." More on what the department is looking for: The "outcomes derived from the research and education of this center should emphasize applications related to domestic security while reflecting on the international context of terrorism. Further, approaches to develop the future intellectual capital and workforce necessary to respond to the challenges raised in this [announcement] should be broadly integrated across all lines of research."

Federal Computer Week, one of the few publications to cover DHS's plans, excerpted parts of the announcement that focused on technology needs for the terrorism studies. The DHS is looking for "statistical and computational modeling that incorporates geospatial, cultural, linguistic and political data to detect, prevent, prepare for and respond to terrorist activity at the earliest possible point in time, as well as scenario-driven behavioral models describing potential nodes of intervention with individuals and groups' domestic and international, according to the department's notice. The notice states that researchers should consider users, privacy issues, new technologies, new operational procedures and changing organizational structures."

The Minnesota Center

Ridge said the University of Minnesota will get $15 million for its research on food security. According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, "[r]esearch will range from devising ways to detect dangerous substances in food to mapping how food gets from the farmfield to the consumer and who handles it along the way. Up to 90 investigators at the university and other schools as well as outside experts and people in food companies will be involved in the work." The Associated Press noted that "[m]ajor educational partners in the Minnesota grant are Michigan State University, North Dakota State University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Faculty members at other universities also are involved."

The University of Minnesota's Center for Infectious Disease Research & Policy issued its own announcement; the DHS also has a fact sheet on the food safety program.

Congress Weighing in on DHS Agenda

Back in Washington, lawmakers are drafting the first-ever authorization bill for Homeland Security -- legislation that outlines the scope of the agency's responsibilities and how various programs are managed. But work on the legislation has been slow going: "[A] review of the measure found that months of negotiations between Homeland Security Chairman Christopher Cox, R-Calif., and ranking member Jim Turner, D-Texas, failed to produce compromises on several issues," National Journal's Congress Daily reported. "Cox and Turner did reach agreement on language for overall management of the department as well as certain cybersecurity, science and technology, intelligence, border security and emergency preparedness provisions." The bill also "includes several technology provisions, including language to elevate cybersecurity activities at the department to garner more attention and resources to cyber threats as well as a new geospatial data program and public safety interoperability initiative," the article said.

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