WASHINGTON – Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., says a new report questioning the effectiveness of next-generation radiation portal monitors means the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) must develop better technology to prevent terrorists from smuggling nuclear weapons across our borders.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that testing by the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO), a part of DHS, revealed that next-generation Advanced Spectroscopic Portals (ASP) would provide only “limited improvement” in detection over current-generation Polyvinyl Toulene (PVT) radiation portal monitors.

GAO conducted the DNDO audit at the request of Lieberman and other members of Congress, who questioned DNDO’s efforts to have Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano certify that the ASP systems would provide a “significant improvement in operational effectiveness” over the PVT systems.

“While I’m pleased that the Science &Technology Directorate at DHS has stepped in to help improve the reliability of DNDO testing practices, it is disappointing to learn that the next generation ASP system provides only a slight improvement in detection performance over the current system,” Lieberman said. “That’s why Secretary Napolitano is right to hold back on ASP certification and to seriously consider a new approach to how DHS will stop terrorists from smuggling a nuclear weapon into our country.”

In light of the ASP system’s “mixed” performance in comparison to the PVT systems, GAO recommended that DHS get an independent cost-benefit analysis of the ASP investment before acquiring it.

“DNDO acknowledges that ASPs are significantly more expensive than PVTs to deploy and maintain, and based on preliminary results from the 2008 testing, it is not yet clear that the $2 billion cost of DNDO’s deployment plan is justified,” the report found. The ASP monitors “are not expected to detect certain nuclear materials that are surrounded by a realistic level of shielding better than PVTs could.”

GAO praised DNDO for making changes to its testing practices that “addressed concerns we previously raised about the potential for bias” and noted that the direct participation of other DHS agencies provided an “independent check, within DHS, of DNDO’s efforts….” and improved the “overall rigor” of the testing process.