WASHINGTON – Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn, is asking The Government Accountability Office to verify that any decision by the Department of Homeland Security to move ahead with a planned $1 billion procurement of next generation nuclear radiation detection monitors is “based on realistic performance testing in operational environments.”
The request came in a letter to GAO Comptroller General David Walker that was also signed by five other members of Congress, including the Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Homeland Security Committee and the Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
In the DHS FY 2007 budget, Congress provided funding for DHS’ Domestic Nuclear Detection Office to begin buying so-called Advanced Spectroscopic Portal radiation detection sensors. However, as a result of questions GAO raised about a June 2006 Cost Benefit Analysis that DHS had submitted in support the ASP procurement, 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.
“To be clear, the objective of this audit request is to ensure that, in the event DHS moves forward with the certification of the ASP acquisition, Congress…has the benefit of timely and authoritative GAO findings and recommendations regarding the validity of the DHS certification process and the costs and benefits associated with proceeding with full scale acquisition of ASP sensors,” the letter said.
The lawmakers also asked GAO to determine the “projected costs to implement the domestic and international portions of the global nuclear detection architecture” being developed by DNDO and the extent to which the intelligence community, particularly the Directorate of National Intelligence and DNI’s National Counter-Proliferation Center, contributed to the design of the architecture.
Signing the letter along with Lieberman are Representatives Henry Waxman, D-Calif., Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., Peter King, R-N.Y., James Langevin, D-R.I., and Michael McCaull, R-Tex.
Following is full text of the GAO request:
May 14, 2007
The Honorable David M. Walker
U.S. Government Accountability Office
441 G St., NW
Washington, DC 20548
Dear Comptroller Walker:
The U.S. government places a very high priority on detecting, interdicting and deterring nuclear smuggling because the consequences of a nuclear detonation in this country would be devastating to our lives, our economy, and our society.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO) is an interagency office that includes representatives from the Departments of Defense, Energy, State, Justice and other agencies. DNDO is responsible for coordinating the federal government’s efforts to devise a multi-layered system of radiation detection, also known as the global nuclear detection architecture, to thwart the smuggling of nuclear materials into the United States. DNDO is specifically responsible for implementing the domestic portion of the nuclear detection architecture and for testing, evaluating, and procuring radiation detection equipment to support the efforts of DHS and other federal agencies to detect and prevent nuclear terrorist attacks.
In pursuit of this mission, DNDO conducted testing and evaluation of Advanced Spectroscopic Portal (ASP) radiation monitors in 2005 at the Nevada Test Site; awarded a $1.1 billion advanced development contract to three ASP vendors in July 2006 for the production of an additional ASP prototype; and, so far in 2007 has conducted additional testing and evaluation of ASP prototypes. We understand that these tests and other efforts will be used by DNDO and DHS to comply with a requirement in the Conference Report of the DHS Appropriations Act for 2007 (House Report No. 109–699):
The conferees are concerned preliminary testing of Advanced Spectroscopic Portal (ASP) monitors indicates the effectiveness of the new technology may fall well short of levels anticipated in DNDO’s cost-benefit analysis. To date, the conferees have not received validated quantitative evidence that ASP monitors perform more effectively in an operational environment compared to current generation portal monitors. Therefore, the conferees include bill language prohibiting DNDO from full scale procurement of ASP monitors until the Secretary has certified and reports to the Committees on Appropriations that a significant increase in operational effectiveness merits such a decision.
Therefore, we ask that GAO address the following questions:
1. To what extent does the data and analysis that DNDO will use for the secretary’s certification of ASP sensors show a significant improvement over current detection capabilities, based on realistic performance testing in operational environments?
2. What are the projected costs to develop, procure, deploy, operate, and maintain ASP detection sensors over a 10-year life cycle and do the improvements in detection performance capabilities or benefits identified in Question 1 justify the additional cost of the ASP systems?
3. To what extent has DNDO developed a global nuclear detection architecture? Please discuss the role played by the Intelligence Community, particularly the Directorate of National Intelligence (DNI) and DNI National Counter-Proliferation Center, in developing any threat scenarios that underlie DNDO’s architecture. We would also like to know the degree to which DNDO used risk analyses in developing its architecture and how these analyses ultimately affected the configuration of the architecture. Finally, please assess the degree to which the United States must rely on the cooperation and assistance of foreign countries for the effective implementation of the global architecture.
4. What are DNDO’s projected costs to implement the domestic and international portions of the global nuclear detection architecture? Please assess the validity of DNDO’s projections given what is known about the costs to procure, install, and operate radiation detection equipment.
Given the rapid changes that DHS contemplates for the domestic nuclear detection system over the next several years, we recognize that additional cost, policy or implementation questions may arise during this engagement and that GAO will need the flexibility to refine the scope of individual audits under this request and, further, that for some aspects of this audit request, time may be of the essence.
During a recent briefing for the staff of the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, DNDO officials indicated that they may limit the field validation testing of ASP prototypes to two or three weeks at selected ports of entry and could initiate the certification process as early as this summer. We appreciate the department’s desire to increase the tempo of DNDO testing, evaluation, and acquisition activities, but we question whether a few weeks of testing in operational settings will be sufficient to determine the readiness of the ASP systems for full deployment.
More generally, we are concerned about the management challenges that are inherent in evolutionary or spiral advanced technology development acquisitions of the type DNDO is conducting. These challenges have the potential to produce soaring cost overruns, schedule delays or performance problems, including those that result from laudable efforts by agencies to accelerate the use of advanced technologies.
To be clear, the objective of this audit request is to ensure that, in the event DHS moves forward with the certification of the ASP acquisition, Congress, and more specifically the Senate and House Committees on Appropriations, has the benefit of timely and authoritative GAO findings and recommendations regarding the validity of the DHS certification process and the costs and benefits associated with proceeding with full scale acquisition of ASP sensors.
We understand that in the recent past some GAO audit teams have reported unusual delays in gaining access to documents at DHS agencies; have experienced limitations in conducting interviews of DHS personnel; or have had to conclude audits without receiving all requested documents or information.
In this case, we would view any such limitations on GAO access as unacceptable. The gravity of the nuclear terrorism threat and the massive investment that will be needed to significantly improve our radiation detection defenses against nuclear terrorism require that Congress has the benefit of timely and authoritative GAO audit reports that are based on full and contemporaneous access to all documents, facilities, personnel or technical information that GAO deems relevant.
Therefore, we ask that GAO promptly notify our committees of any delays in gaining access to documents or conducting interviews pursuant to this request and, further, that GAO contact the committee staff at least monthly for the purpose of responding to the following questions:
1. Has GAO encountered delays or difficulties in obtaining relevant documents or conducting interviews with government personnel or contractors?
2. Has GAO identified any potential internal or external impairments that could delay or hinder GAO’s ability to provide Congress with reports or testimony that are responsive to this request?
3. Have GAO auditors or analysts identified new information or any additional audit issues that appear to have a bearing on the deliberations of the Committee on Appropriations or that may merit oversight by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee or the House Committee on Homeland Security?
If you have any questions, please contact Jim McGee on Senator Lieberman’s staff at 202-224-2627, John Williams on Congressman Waxman’s staff at 202-225-5420, Cherri Branson on Congressman Thompson’s staff at 202-226-2616, Marla Greenberg on Congressman Langevin’s staff at 202-225-2735 and Diane Berry on Congressman King and McCaul’s staff at 202-226-8417.
Joseph I. Lieberman Henry A. Waxman
U.S. Senate U.S. Congress
Bennie G. Thompson Peter T. King
U.S. Congress U.S. Congress
James R. Langevin Michael T. McCaul
U.S. Congress U.S. Congress