Lungren, Bilirakis Statement on Continuing Oversight of BioWatch Program

Jul 23, 2012 Issues: Weapons of Mass Destruction

Announce September Hearing to Coincide with Release of GAO Report They Requested Last Year

Washington, D.C. – Today, following a briefing and demonstration on Capitol Hill of BioWatch detection devices, Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection, and Security Technologies, and Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Communications, issued the following statement on the Homeland Security Committee’s continuing oversight of the Department of Homeland Security’s BioWatch program: 

“As we both work each day to better secure the Homeland from terrorist attack, we agree that it is critical for the U.S. to have an effective system in place to defend the Homeland against a potentially catastrophic bioterrorism attack.  Right now, the DHS BioWatch Generation 1/2 program is the Federal government’s answer to early detection for dangerous, aerosolized biological agents that may be deployed by terrorists.  While not without its limitations, we have worked to ensure that the system is effectively providing risk mitigation, through hearings, legislation, and most importantly, speaking with local authorities who administer the program at the local level.

“Over the course of the 112th Congress, our serious concerns about DHS’s next generation (Generation 3) BioWatch acquisition have steadily grown.  In early 2011, we began what has been continuing and robust oversight of Biowatch Gen-3. In an April 2011 letter, we posed to Secretary Napolitano more than 25 questions so that we could ensure the integrity of this extremely costly acquisition process.  Frankly, DHS’s response was unsatisfactory, and significant questions remained. 

“In November, we both requested that the GAO examine this acquisition process to ensure that DHS has undertaken a rigorous determination of the capabilities of Gen-3.  We expect that GAO investigators will report their findings to us in mid-September.  For the past several weeks, we have been planning a joint hearing for September 20 to receive and discuss these findings.  We will invite senior officials from DHS and GAO to testify.

“The BioWatch Gen-3 acquisition would be one of the most costly acquisitions ever undertaken by DHS.  Congressional oversight is absolutely essential in this process, so we welcome additional and recent interest from other Members and look forward to working with them to ensure that any next generation BioWatch acquisition be done in a fiscally responsible manner.” 

Background Information: 

·        In March 2011 and March 2012, the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Communications held hearings to consider the budget requests for the Office of Health Affairs.  BioWatch typically comprises about 80 percent of that office’s budget.  At both hearings, Chairman Bilirakis and Subcommittee Members questioned DHS Assistant Secretary for Health Affairs Dr. Alexander Garza about BioWatch and the Gen-3 procurement.  The March 2011 hearing is available HERE, and the March 2012 hearing is available HERE.

    ·         In April 2011, Chairman Lungren, Chairman Bilirakis, and Ranking Member Richardson wrote to Secretary Napolitano inquiring about Gen-3.  Their signed letter is HERE.

    ·         In November 2011, Chairman Lungren and Chairman Bilirakis requested a GAO investigation.  The request letter is HERE.  (Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Ranking Member Susan Collins subsequently joined the request.)

    ·         In October 2011, Chairman Lungren successfully offered an amendment to the DHS Authorization Bill (HR 3116). With ongoing concerns about the Gen-3 procurement, Chairman Lungren’s amendment requires that strict criteria be met before any new biodetection system is acquired by DHS.  The amendment also provided guidelines for improving the functionality of the currently deployed system.

    ·         Today, Chairman Bilirakis and other Members hosted a briefing and demonstration on Capitol Hill of BioWatch detection devices. 

    ·         On September 20, the Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection, and Security Technologies and the Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Communications will convene a joint hearing to receive and discuss the GAO findings.

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