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DHS seeks to improve strategy to detect nuclear materials in cargo

Aug. 1, 2012 - 11:56AM   |  
By ORIANA PAWLYK   |   Comments

The Department of Homeland Security is looking to improve its strategy to detect nuclear materials in cargo entering the country — and thus ward off potential nuclear attacks, lawmakers and experts said at a hearing last week.

A new Government Accountability Office report faults the department’s Global Nuclear Detection Architecture (GNDA) strategy because it does not specify the funding needed to achieve its objectives and it does not use monitoring mechanisms to measure progress and identify needed improvements.

We’d like to see clearer articulation and priorities and more robust discussion on anticipated resources,” David Maurer, director of Homeland Security and Justice issues at GAO, said at a hearing of the House subcommittee on cybersecurity, infrastructure protection and security technologies. His report cited progress in deploying radiation detection equipment in trucks and containerized cargo coming into the country through seaports and border crossings, but less progress in scanning railcars from Canada and Mexico and international air cargo.

The hearing was held July 26, 10 days after the Obama administration canceled a $1.2 billion program to install more advanced detection systems around the country to screen for enemy nuclear threats. Tests found the systems to be unreliable.

DHS’ Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO), created in 2005, is now drafting a strategy on how to proceed, said the office’s acting director, Huban Gowadia.

The GNDA strategy outlines a $1 billion, five-year program to install radiation-detection technologies at a series of fixed sites, coupled with interdiction activities by DHS and the Energy, State and Defense departments.

The nuclear detection system recently canceled was the advanced spectroscopic portals (ASP) system, for which Congress approved $1.2 billion in 2006. But in 2010, the National Academy of Sciences found the devices were unreliable, prompting policy makers to shut the program down.

Referring to the failed ASP program, Yvette Clarke, D-N.Y. said, “I hope we don’t see that kind of decision-making again in DNDO.”

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