Bureaucracy Impedes Bomb-Detection Work
Saturday, August 12, 2006; 3:01 AM
WASHINGTON -- As the British terror plot was unfolding, the Bush administration quietly tried to take away $6 million that was supposed to be spent this year developing new explosives detection technology.
Congressional leaders rejected the idea, the latest in a series of Homeland Security Department steps that have left lawmakers and some of the department's own experts questioning the commitment to create better anti-terror technologies.
Homeland Security's research arm, called the Sciences & Technology Directorate, is a "rudderless ship without a clear way to get back on course," Republican and Democratic senators on the Appropriations Committee declared recently.
"The committee is extremely disappointed with the manner in which S&T is being managed within the Department of Homeland Security," the panel wrote June 29 in a bipartisan report accompanying the agency's 2007 budget.
Rep. Martin Sabo, D-Minn., who joined Republicans to block the administration's recent diversion of explosives detection money, said research and development is crucial to thwarting future attacks, and there is bipartisan agreement that Homeland Security has fallen short.
"They clearly have been given lots of resources that they haven't been using," Sabo said.
Homeland Security said Friday its research arm has just gotten a new leader, former Navy research chief Rear Adm. Jay Cohen, and there is strong optimism for developing new detection technologies in the future.
"I don't have any criticisms of anyone," said Kip Hawley, the assistant secretary for transportation security. "I have great hope for the future. There is tremendous intensity on this issue among the senior management of this department to make this area a strength."
Lawmakers and recently retired Homeland Security officials say they are concerned the department's research and development effort is bogged down by bureaucracy, lack of strategic planning and failure to use money wisely.
The department failed to spend $200 million in research and development money from past years, forcing lawmakers to rescind the money this summer.
The administration also was slow to start testing a new liquid explosives detector that the Japanese government provided to the United States earlier this year.
The British plot to blow up as many as 10 American airlines on trans-Atlantic flights would have involved liquid explosives.