JUNE 24, 2013
As if it weren’t bad enough that the U.S. government has blown $1 billion on a faulty system that’s supposed to detect biological attacks, Homeland Security officials now reveal it’s not exactly the right technology for the job and they want more money to revamp it.
It only took the nation’s homeland security officials a decade and a big chunk of taxpayer dollars to figure it out. So is life in the bloated federal government, especially the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the monstrous agency created after 9/11 to protect the nation from another terrorist attack.
This particular case involves BioWatch, a costly program that for 10 years was promoted as life-saving technology tasked with detecting biological attacks. After DHS invested $1 billion in it, BioWatch never came close to meeting its goal of accurately detecting pathogens that cause anthrax, tularemia, smallpox, plague and other deadly diseases. Instead it is well known for false alarms and other glitches.
In fact, the system has become such a joke that state and local authorities don’t bother ordering evacuations when its alarm triggers. Federal agencies documented 56 false alarms in just a few years yet DHS kept pouring money into it and planned to keep investing billions more. In fact, the DHS’s medical officer has even vouched for the upgrade, telling a congressional committee that it’s “imperative to saving thousands of lives.”
Now DHS officials want to revamp BioWatch, asserting that the original technology was not appropriate for the type of threat that is likely to occur. In a congressional hearing last week, a Homeland Security official said the original system was designed to detect large-scale biological attacks though small-scale attacks are more likely to occur. Geez, why didn’t you say something a billion dollars ago?
This occurred because officials evidently believed that hostile foreign governments would commit large-scale attacks on U.S. cities, but that theory has changed. Instead, our brilliant Homeland Security folks believe this has evolved to small-scale releases of pathogens like anthrax. The BioWatch technology that American taxpayers have funded to the tune of $1 billion is unlikely to detect this sort of attack.
With that in mind, DHS wants more money from Congress to fund a revamped BioWatch program called Generation 3 that officials claim could actually get the job done. Last week an oversight panel of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce addressed the issue in a hearing. The panel’s ranking member, California Democrat Henry Waxman, pointed out that DHS approved the new program “without fully developing critical knowledge that would help ensure sound investment, decision making, pursuit of optimal solutions, and reliable performance, cost, and schedule information.”
Is anyone really surprised? A DHS official who testified at the hearing brushed it off, saying that he was unable to address decisions or actions that occurred before he joined the agency in 2009. This angered Congressman Waxman, according to a mainstream newspaper that has been a leader in exposing the scandal-plagued BioWatch system. “You’re the head of the program, you ought to know what happened,” Waxman said at the hearing, referring to the more than $1 billion spent to date on BioWatch and the department’s pending proposal to spend billions more to automate the system. Don’t be surprised if the hearings are just theater and DHS ends up getting more money for this experiment.
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