WASHINGTON – Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Me., took Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials to task Wednesday for the Department’s failure to complete a global architecture to detect the smuggling of nuclear materials, despite a five-year effort and the expenditure of $4 billion of taxpayer money.
At a hearing entitled "Nuclear Terrorism: Strengthening our Domestic Defenses, Part II," the Senators expressed their frustration and disappointment with the work of the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO): its failure to develop a strategic plan to guide nuclear detection efforts by DHS agencies and the failure of its two largest acquisition programs–the Advanced Spectroscopic Portal (ASP) and the Cargo Advanced Automated Radiography Systems (CAARS) -that represent a combined investment of $400 million over five years.
"We are not happy or satisfied that a considerable amount of taxpayer money has been spent without results," Senator Lieberman said. "Most importantly, the overall nuclear defense program DNDO has been working on since it was created – the Global Nuclear Detection Architecture – is still not completed.
"We held numerous hearings on this topic during the previous Administration, and the problems facing DHS, DNDO, and our efforts to design the Global Nuclear Detection Architecture are not new and have been well documented.
"The threat is enormous here… This Administration must step up to the plate and close this gap in our nuclear defenses."
Senator Collins said: "Today, the Department of Homeland Security still lacks a strategic plan for the global nuclear detection architecture, even though it has already spent $4 billion on this effort. The need for a strategic plan was a necessity first identified by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) nearly eight years ago. We cannot wait another eight years or even another eight months. The Department must complete this plan now.
"The office charged with this effort at DHS – the DNDO – has seemed more intent on investing in new technology than on the nuts-and-bolts planning that should guide these acquisitions. GAO’s statement for the record today highlights problems with the CAARS, that would x-ray the contents of cargo containers. GAO found that DNDO failed to adequately communicate with Customs and Border Protection about such basic issues as how large the equipment could be to still fit within port of entry inspection lanes. After more than two years of work, DNDO decided to cancel the acquisition of this technology and focus on more research and development. DHS must be a more responsible steward of taxpayer dollars.
"Time and money have been wasted as DNDO focused almost completely on marginal improvements in technology, rather than identifying gaps in coverage and the appropriate technology to eliminate those gaps."
A draft version of a strategic plan is now circulating within DHS but witnesses could not promise it would be complete before December 31.
In testimony submitted for the record, the GAO also accused DHS of "misleading" Congress on the status of CAARS, which was intended to detect shielded nuclear materials smuggled through our ports of entry. GAO said DHS did not consult with relevant DHS agencies, in particular Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which would be operating the machines at the ports.
The Committee held the first part of the hearing series in June. At that hearing, witnesses from the GAO, the Congressional Research Service (CRS), and the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), testified that DNDO was woefully behind in its planning and implementation efforts despite $4 billion in funding for the global architecture since the DNDO was created in 2005 as a free-standing office within the DHS.
DNDO was established in April 2005 by a presidential order as "the primary entity in the United States Government to further develop, acquire and support the deployment of an enhanced domestic system to detect and report on attempts to import, possess, store, transport, develop or use" an unauthorized nuclear or radiological device.
DHS Deputy Secretary Jane Holl Lute, the chief witness at the hearing, provided a defense of the progress DHS has made in developing the Global Nuclear Detection Architecture.
Also testifying in closed session were DHS Under Secretary, Directorate for Science and Technology, Tara J. O’Toole; DNDO Director Warren Stern; Assistant Administrator, Office of Security Technology, Transportation Security Administration, Robin E. Kane; Deputy Assistant Director, National Security, Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement John P. Woods; Executive Director, Cargo and Conveyance Security, Office of Field Operations, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Todd C. Owen; Associate Deputy Under Secretary for Analysis, Office of Intelligence and Analysis Melissa Smislova; and Rear Admiral Cari B. Thomas, Director of Response Policy, U.S. Coast Guard.