WASHINGTON –

Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., expressed disappointment Monday that four years have been lost in the development of next generation radiation portal monitors after the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced it would scale back on development, given the monitors’ continued failure to live up to expectations.

            The Department has announced it would stop development of the monitors, known as the Advanced Spectroscopic Portal (ASP) program, for primary screening of cargo containers entering U.S. land and sea ports, according to Dr. William Hagan, acting director of DHS’s Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO), which is responsible for developing the radiation portal monitor system.

            In a letter to Senator Lieberman, Hagan said DNDO will still try to develop the ASP system for use at secondary screening sites for cargo containers that set off alarms in primary screening, but cautioned that the Department’s “decision does not mean that ASPs will be purchased and deployed to secondary” screening.

            “The threat of nuclear terrorism cannot be ignored, which is why I’m an advocate for strategic investments to improve our defenses against the smuggling of nuclear materials into this country,” Lieberman said. “Thus, it is unfortunate that four years have been lost on the basic DNDO mission of improving the nation’s existing system of domestic defenses against a nuclear terrorist attack.”

            DNDO launched the $1.1 billion ASP program in 2005. The plan was to replace current generation portal monitors, which use a different technology, with the ASP at all primary and secondary screen sites in the Department’s Radiation Portal Monitor Program (RMP).

            “I regret that the ASPs have not met expectations,” Lieberman said. “It is now critical that the Department finish all segments of the portal monitor system and improve the overall performance of the current technology. We need to get more current generation mobile and portable detection equipment into the hands of local, state and federal agencies.”

Lieberman also said he strongly supports the Administration’s proposal in the FY 2011 budget to transfer DNDO’s research and development (R&D) funding to the Department’s Science and Technology Directorate (S&T).

            “It makes sense to consolidate the management of nuclear and radiological R&D projects in the Directorate that is developing advanced explosive detection and aviation screening technologies,” he said. “If the Department wants to make future generations of Americans safer from the threat of a nuclear terrorist attack, then it needs to start getting better results from its R&D investments.”

            The DHS Acquisition Review Board will rule on a more limited use of the ASP system following an additional round of testing to be overseen by S&T.  Hagen said the board’s decision will be based on the structured analysis of costs, benefits, and alternatives that DHS requires for all large-scale acquisitions under new acquisition rules that reflect lessons learned from the ASP program.