Pathogen alert upgrade languishes
WASHINGTON — An alert system designed to detect deadly pathogens such as anthrax in New York and 33 other cities is stalled because lawmakers say they are concerned the next phase may not work.
BioWatch has been delayed and cost estimates have increased since the program started in 2003 under President George W. Bush in response to the post-Sept. 11, 2001 anthrax attacks. The Department of Homeland Security has spent more than $1 billion on BioWatch over 10 years and hired contractors such as Northrop Grumman Corp., of Falls Church, Va.
Department of Homeland Security officials want to upgrade to a system called Gen-3, which would use permanent boxes containing small, automated laboratories to detect pathogens and transmit the results to public health officials. Results would be available in as little as four hours after exposure, compared with 12 to 36 hours under the Gen-2 system, which requires technicians to manually retrieve samples.
“No procurement of this technology can proceed until after the secretary of Homeland Security certifies the science is proven,” U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, a Republican from Upper St. Clair, said on Tuesday at a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing. He said that would avoid a “boondoggle.”
Estimates of how much the next phase of the program may cost vary, according to a House Committee on Energy and Commerce memo last week. An internal department document from December 2011 projected spending as much as $7.7 billion over 15 years, while a Government Accountability Office report estimated costs would be $5.8 billion over 10 years. Those estimates were “based on technologies that failed” to meet operational requirements, the memo said.
“Currently there is no Gen-3,” Michael Walter, BioWatch program manager at the Department of Homeland Security, said at the hearing.
Northrop, the fifth-biggest government contractor on Bloomberg Government's list of the 200 largest federal contractors, has worked since at least 2009 to develop technology for BioWatch.
Murphy said that if the science underlying the next phase of BioWatch is proven, “DHS would be expected to pursue the multibillion dollar” program.
Last year, Congress cut $40 million from the program that Homeland Security department officials had requested. It required the department's secretary to “certify” the technology is effective before the agency can begin procuring the next phase of the system, according to a memo.
Rep. Henry Waxman of California, the top Democrat on the committee, said in a statement BioWatch was “implemented too hastily” and that delaying the next phase will “protect taxpayers.”
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Threat leads to evacuation of Sandy Hook school
- Murder charges dropped against sergeant who shot 2 unarmed Iraqi boys
- First Ebola case in U.S. confirmed in Dallas
- Secret Service chief endures blistering glare of Congress’ questions over White House breach
- Medical marijuana use to get court test in Colo.
- New York City mayor boosts city’s living wage to $13.13
- Panel says Wis. lawmaker likely broke House rules by advocating for companies in which he owned stock
- Search of unsecure federal labs finds vials of more deadly pathogens: Ricin, botulism, plague bacteria
- Security whips up service problems at CIA Starbucks
- Pentagon review puts Gitmo transfers on ice
- Feds say $100M in data hacked