WASHINGTON (AP) — 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.
Senators Judd Gregg, R-N.H., and Robert Byrd, D-W.Va, and Representatives Martin Sabo, D-Minn and Hal Rogers, R-Ky, Homeland Security Appropriation Committee members of their respective Congressional branches, rejected the request that would have diverted the funds to “cover a budget shortfall in the Federal Protective Service, which provides security around government buildings”.
A Senate Appropriation Committee report from June 29, 2006 showed disappointment with the management of the Science and Technology Directorate of the Homeland Security Department. The “research and development effort is bogged down by bureaucracy, lack of strategic planning and failure to use money wisely“. The S&T division had not used their complete allotment of financial resources over the past few years, and $200M was rescinded this past summer.
The Japanese government provided our government a liquids explosive detector this past January, one that is currently being used at the Narita International Airport in Tokyo. We are just now starting to test it in six US airports.
Homeland Security is spending a total of $732 million this year on various explosives deterrents. It has tested several commercial liquid explosive detectors over the past few years but hasn’t been satisfied enough with the results to deploy them.
A 2002 Homeland Security report and a 2005 Congressional report advised that “smaller trace explosive detectors” be used in foreign airports and wanted “immediate deployment” of these units The cost per unit is $40,000. However, these efforts were rebuffed. Recently retired Homeland Security employee, Tony Fainberg, who oversaw the department’s explosive and radiation detection research with the national labs:
“There was no resistance from any country that I was aware of, and yet we didn’t deploy it.”
Fainberg said research efforts were often frustrated inside Homeland Security by “bureaucratic games,” a lack of strategic goals and months-long delays in distributing money Congress had already approved.
“There has not been a focused and coherent strategic plan for defining what we need … and then matching the research and development plans to that overall strategy.”
Three years ago, the Bush administration was asked by Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-OR, to allow the purchase of “electron scanners like the ones used at London’s airport to detect plastics that might be hidden beneath passenger clothes”.
“It’s been an ongoing frustration about their resistance to purchase off-the-shelf, state-of-the-art equipment that can meet these threats,” he said.
We know that our government was aware of the recent terror plot in England as the events were unfolding over the past several weeks. In that same timeframe, they was asking for a cut of $6,000,000 from the Science and Technology section of the Homeland Security Department. According to the sources from the AP article, they have also been stalling, resisting, rebuffing, and are unfocused in their effort to improve effective technologies for transportation security.
We’ve seen how quickly republicans used England’s event as a fundraising and political tool. They are telling us that they are the ones that will keep us safe, and they make no apologies for exploiting the situation to their perceived advantage. I’d like to hear their explanation, however, regarding the state of the Science and Technology Division and the justification for the request of the fund diversion.