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Press Releases :: June 22, 2009

Chairman Gordon Comments on GAO Report Regarding Multi-Billion Dollar Radiation Portal Monitoring Program

Investigations & Oversight Subcommittee to Hold Hearing on Thursday

 (Washington, DC)—Today, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released its sixth report in three years on the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) troubled next generation radiation monitoring program to develop Advanced Spectroscopic Portals (ASPs). This report 
Combating Nuclear Smuggling: DHS Improved Testing of Advanced Radiation Detection Portal monitors, but Preliminary Results Show Limits of the New Technology  was requested by several members of Congress, including Committee on Science and Technology Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN).

GAO found some improvements in the testing of these monitors compared to their last evaluation of the program, but they also identified continuing problems in the ASP program and significant limits in the capabilities of the technology. The radiation portal monitor program is being developed and tested by the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO) at DHS, but the actual equipment will be operated by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials at U.S. ports of entry. 

In their latest review, the GAO found that the ASP program continues to suffer from ongoing problems, with each of the two remaining contractors competing to develop the ASPs suffering from recent software problems. In terms of performance, the GAO found that the ASPs only provided a minimal improvement over the existing monitors which have been deployed since 2002. Those improvements, however, are for a very narrow range of specific nuclear threat conditions—conditions that many experts see as unrealistic.

Overall, the GAO criticized the criteria used by DNDO to measure improvement in the new radiation monitors compared to existing radiation detection systems and for failing to test realistic terrorist threat scenarios. It also faulted DNDO for not completing software upgrades to help improve the performance of the already deployed radiation monitors


“If we are going to spend billions of dollars to deploy new security systems we better make sure they perform reliably, effectively and provide us with a real advantage over existing technologies already deployed,” said Gordon. “GAO is right to point out that the only way to ensure that the public’s interest is served by new radiation portal technologies is to push to have rigorous research, testing and development completed beforenew systems are purchased and deployed.”

Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight Chairman Brad Miller (D-NC) added, “Factors of cost, reliability, and comparative performance over existing systems need to be weighed thoroughly before more federal funds are devoted to this program. GAO’s current findings, along with their previous reports, raise serious questions. Has the testing of these new machines been rigorous enough? Will they actually improve our security and are they worth the cost? I look forward to exploring these questions with GAO, the National Academy of Sciences and representatives from the Department of Homeland Security at our hearing this week.”

According to an analysis by the Congressional Research Service (CRS), Congress has already authorized $339.5 million for the ASP program since 2004 and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has spent more than $235 million on this program to date. The program could cost an additional $2 to $3 billion dollars if it moves forward. The Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight will hold a hearing on the ASP testing program this Thursday titled:
The Science of Security: Lessons Learned in Developing, Testing and Operating Advanced Radiation MonitorsThe hearing will highlight the release of both the GAO report as well as a new report by the National Academy of Sciences, Evaluating Testing, Costs, and Benefits of Advanced Spectroscopic Portals, which is expected to echo many of the concerns identified by GAO. The National Academies will also testify about their new report on ASPs at the Subcommittee hearing.
Thursday, June 25, 2009
Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee – Hearing
The Science of Security: Lessons Learned in Developing, Testing and Operating Advanced Radiation Monitors  
Panel I -
Mr. Gene Aloise, Director, Natural Resources and Environment, Government Accountability Office
Dr. Micah Lowenthal, Division on Earth and Life Studies, Nuclear and Radiation Studies Board, National Research Council, The National Academy of Sciences
Panel II -
Dr. William Hagan, Acting Deputy Director,Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO), Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
Mr. Todd C. Owen, Acting Deputy Assistant Commissioner, Office of Field Operations, U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP), Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
10:00a.m. – 12:00p.m.
2318 Rayburn House Office Building (WEBCAST)
For more information, please see Committee’s website.


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