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Presidential advisers adopt antiterror research plan

By Dan Verton
August 5, 2002 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - WASHINGTON -- A presidential council of advisers today approved a draft report that outlines the role of science and technology in the proposed cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security.

The President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) voted unanimously to deliver to the president a "Report on Maximizing the Contribution of Science and Technology Within the New Department of Homeland Security." The report is the result of a study by a PCAST subcommittee on combating terrorism headed by Norman Augustine, chairman and CEO of Bethesda, Md.-based Lockheed Martin Corp.

The principle issue is to what extent technology research and development should be a part of the new department, said Augustine, speaking during a teleconference. The PCAST panel concluded that "technology should be given a position of considerable prominence within the department," Augustine said.

"Our terrorist enemies are technically savvy, and continued technological progress is required to better defend the homeland and stay one step ahead of their technical capabilities," wrote John H. Marburger III, the PCAST's co-chairman, in a letter to the president accompanying the report. "American science and technology leadership can and will help the nation counter and respond to the terrorist threats," wrote Marburger, who also serves as director of the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy. "Our optimism is bolstered by the fact that many companies and academic institutions have already come forward offering to apply their know-how, technology or products."

Among other things, the report calls for the establishment of a federally funded R&D center for homeland security in the private sector. This organization would perform systems analysis, support of systems engineering and security "red teaming," Augustine said.

A new position of undersecretary of science and technology within the proposed department would conduct strategic oversight, resource allocation and pilot project management, he said.

However, the report also warns against focusing too much on IT as the answer to fighting terrorism.

"Terrorism is developing in a manner that cannot be approached entirely through devices, substances and information technology," the report warns. "The terrorist threat involves human behavior, culture, religion and differing world views, as well as behavior and motivations largely unfamiliar to most Americans. It can disrupt us by playing havoc with our economy, transportation, supply chains, legal system, and our psychology. Elements of [the Homeland Security Department's R&D program] should therefore involve social scientists, humanists, and 'out of the box' thinkers from a wide variety of backgrounds. Highly unusual interdisciplinary work will be required."

Other PCAST recommendations

a Rapid Prototyping Cell or group to conduct “fast track development” of promising new capabilities.

a Homeland Security Advanced Research Agency (HS-ARPA) modeled after the Defense Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

a Homeland Security National Laboratory to focus on extremely high payoff but often high risk, long-term pursuits. One or more of the national labs could be used, rather than establishing a new one.

employment programs that continually bring “new blood” into the department. In the R&D sector, this would include fellowship programs (from universities), scholarship programs (for students) and intergovernmental details.

procurement policies that don’t “freeze” technology or engender “stovepipe” operability. The protective systems that Homeland Security Department designs and implements (the border protection system, for example) must have flexibility ingrained within them, so that the latest technological developments can be swiftly integrated.

flexible contracting authority that encourages participation by innovative companies that otherwise avoid government contracts.

Read more about Security in Computerworld's Security Topic Center.

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