WASHINGTON – Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., said Wednesday he is troubled by the findings of an independent panel that analyzed technology testing practices used by the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO).
The conclusions of the Independent Review Team – appointed by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff to assess the reliability of DNDO testing of new generation radiation detection monitors – confirm audit findings by the Government Accountability Office that DNDO’s approach to testing the Advanced Spectroscopic Portal (ASP) was unreliable.
“The department deserves credit for conducting this review,” Lieberman said. “But I am troubled by the findings of the Independent Review that point to less than rigorous oversight by the Department of DNDO’s testing and evaluation practices.
“We have given DNDO a challenging mission. We certainly understand that some DNDO investments aimed at fielding new radiation detection technologies will not pan out. But these unfortunate outcomes are costing us precious time in the race to harden our domestic defenses.
“The Department must develop a reliable means to assure the American people that major investments by DNDO will have a reasonable chance of making us safer against catastrophic nuclear terrorism.”
A subcommittee of the House Homeland Security Committee held a hearing on the independent panel’s report Wednesday.
The report found that DNDO testing at the Nevada Test Site in 2007 did not show that ASP monitors would provide the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) with a significant improvement in detection performance over current generation Poly Vinyl Toulene (PVT) radiation monitors during primary screening at domestic ports of entry.
The limitations of DNDO’s testing methods, analysis, and scoring make it almost impossible” to evaluate the ASPs’ performance for detecting nuclear threat materials or for rapidly identifying whether the radioactive object is dangerous, the expert panel concluded.
However, the panel disputed another GAO finding that the approach DNDO used during side-by-side tests of ASP and PVT radiation monitors was biased, saying the review “did not find any evidence to support the notion that the NTS test procedure resulted in the manipulation or biasing of test results…”
DNDO, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, is responsible for developing, testing and acquiring for DHS agencies radiation detection technology to prevent the smuggling of nuclear materials through U.S. land and sea ports of entry.
In prior budgets, Congress provided funding for DNDO to proceed with the purchase and deployment of ASPs systems at domestic ports of entry. After GAO auditors criticized a DNDO Cost Benefit Analysis comparing ASP and PVT systems, the Committees on Appropriations decided to delay use of those funds.
The FY 2007 Conference Report required that the Homeland Security Secretary personally certify that the new monitors will provide a “significant increase in operational effectiveness” over current radiation portal monitors that use a different technology to detect nuclear smuggling. That prohibition remains in effect.
In August, 2007 Secretary Chertoff decided to have technical experts from outside DHS conduct an independent review DNDO testing practices. DHS officials have said the findings of the Independent Review findings will be one of several sources of information Secretary Chertoff will consider in deciding whether to certify the performance of ASP systems for full-scale production.