Thursday, November 11, 2010


Section 307 of Public Law 107-296, signed November 25, 2001, created a new organization in DHS. Specifically, the Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency with the acronym HSARPA, and patterned to some degree on the successful DOD unit previously named DARPA for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency which has a bright shiny new building for its current incarnation in Arlington, VA where I spent most of my life.

The statutory charter of HSARPA is of some interest, specifically:
"The Director shall administer the Fund to—
(A) support basic and applied homeland security
research to promote revolutionary changes in technologies
that would promote homeland security;
(B) advance the development, testing and evaluation,
and deployment of critical homeland security technologies;
(C) accelerate the prototyping and deployment of technologies
that would address homeland security

Assuming that no "Manhattan Engineering District" projects lurk below the surface what has this organization done, how is it staffed, how is it funded, and what are its prospects?

CRS in a 2006 report on Science and Technology and research in DHS stated the following:

"Title III authorized establishment of the Homeland Security Advanced Research
Projects Agency (HSARPA) to support applications-oriented, innovative RDT&E in
industry, FFRDCs, and universities. Extramural funding is to be competitive and meritreviewed, but distributed to as many U.S. areas as practicable. The law mandated creation
of university-based centers of excellence for homeland security; five multi-year awards ranging between $10 million to $18 million have been made for centers on: risk and
economic analysis of terrorism at the University of Southern California; agro-security at the University of Minnesota and at Texas A&M; on behavioral and sociological aspects
of terrorism at the University of Maryland; and on high consequence event preparedness and response at Johns Hopkins. DHS and EPA jointly fund a cooperative center on
advancing microbial risk assessment at Michigan State; there are plans for a DHS/Lawrence
Livermore National Laboratory cooperative center on computational challenges
for homeland security. DHS also supports a university fellowship/training program, which plans to train 200 students in 2007, down from 300 in 2006, and up to 15
postdoctoral fellows. Regarding intramural R&D, DHS may use any federal laboratory and may establish a headquarters laboratory to “network” federal laboratories. DHS relies
mostly on the following DOE laboratories: Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore, Sandia, Pacific Northwest and Oak Ridge. A Homeland Security Institute (HSI), an FFRDC
operated by Analytic Services Inc., funded in May 2004, is authorized to conduct risk analysis and policy research on vulnerabilities of, and security for, critical infrastructures; improve interoperability of tools for field operators and first responders; and test
prototype technologies. A clearinghouse was authorized to transfer information about innovations. In addition, DHS created the Interagency Center for Applied Homeland
Security Technology (ICAHST), which validates technical requirements and conducts evaluations for threat and vulnerability testing and assessments."

The most recent DHS org chart I have shows that the word "Innovation" has been added to the HSARPA org block title.

What I am leading up to of course is that despite its charge of basic and applied research DHS generally and the S&T Directorate generally, and of course the Innovation/HSARPA org has seemed not to have fulfilled its ambitious statutory charter. Perhaps it was because DHS has been led by largely failed private practioner lawyers turned politicians and whose grounding in the hard science, research and development, and innovation is probably not just unknown but could be documented as being frightfully deficient to deal with science & technology, or basic or applied research issues. Just guessing of course. Perhaps they all were bench chemists in legal disguise.

What we do know is to the extent that contract money has been available few of the contracted for deliverables have made much or any impact on homeland security. And certainly little was innovative.

As I have some special expertise on FEMA and its role in applied and basic research the latter is easily disposed of in this post. FEMA never in any of its chartering statutes or executive orders or delegations has had a basic research charter. It did for almost 20 years have a coordinating role on research in the arena of earthquakes under its former leaderhsip role of the implementation of the Earthquake Hazards Reduction Act of 1977. That ended shortly after FEMA became part of DHS when NIST became the Executive Branch lead for the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program.

As a lawyer with some hard science background and as a senior lawyer in the independent FEMA OGC I looked desperately to hire a lawyer with technical credentials throughout my 20 years for FEMA. This never happened although it almost did twice. Another time another story.

When originally established under the Presidential Reorganization Plan No. 3 of 1978, implemented by E.O. 12127 and 12148, FEMA's orginal org chart had a RESEARCH & MITIGATION Directorate. This organization was eliminated by the FEMA Director appointed by President Reagan in his almost total reorganization of the agency in September 1981. Research again never appeared as an organizational title in FEMA when independent. I was laughed off when I suggested that perhaps a Science and Engineering Directorate should be established given that FEMA was a large user of at least quasi-technical contractors under the so-called Brooks Law and had in at least one of it statutes the NFIP program authorizing statute at 42 USC 4001 and following the mandate to use the most "scientifically and technically correct" data for flood mapping.

Well the actual numbers of qualified scientific and engineering personnel in FEMA and DHS generally would make for an interesting survey. What I think we can conclude is that HSARPA is no DARPA in the making.

Hey TEA PARTY do you all know the technical difference between "basic" and "applied" research? Hoping you do and the DEMS and GOP does also. Or is blind faith in the contract community as the leading innovators likely to be the continued disaster of failure to reason things through at DHS?