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DHS Is Rare Bright Spot in FY2006 R&D Budget

Homeland security is one of the few areas that will see substantial increases in the proposed FY2006 federal budget, according to Penrose C. ("Parney") Albright, assistant secretary for science and technology in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Speaking at a March 1 briefing hosted by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), Albright provided an overview of the FY2006 budget and future plans for R&D within the DHS, which is the fastest growing sector for R&D in the federal budget.

The FY2006 budget request for the DHS Science and Technology (S&T) Directorate is about $1.4 billion, a significant increase from three years ago, when the total budget was $640 million. Albright attributed this growth to the interest of Congress and the Bush administration in science and technology as it applies to homeland security. Also on hand at the briefing was Kei Koizumi, director of the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program, who provided a perspective that included homeland security R&D being funded by other federal agencies. Although homeland security spending remains a top priority, even as the federal budget faces record deficits, "The majority of homeland security R&D investments remain outside of DHS," said Koizumi. The DHS budget is up about 23.8% for FY2006; the total homeland-security-related R&D, including programs in other departments, will jump 10.7% to $4.6 billion.

"There's a lot of low-hanging fruit out there, [technological] capability that already exists, either commercially or in laboratory prototypes," said Albright about the directorate's strategic focus in an economic climate where tough choices must be made. "It's very difficult to do a typical cost-benefit analysis. Our judgments are based on risk and whether we can make a useful technological contribution in that area." He added that the S&T Directorate also looks at what R&D is being done by other agencies to minimize duplicating efforts and encourage cooperation.

The largest portion of the S&T Directorate budget is the $362.3 million for biological counter-measures. Its focus is on surveillance and detection, specifically, the development of the next two generations of environmental monitoring systems. The chemical countermeasures program is budgeted at $102 million for FY2006, with R&D focusing on detection of those chemical agents most likely to pose a realistic threat, both domestically and on the battlefield.

Albright acknowledged that a major issue for the DHS has been its lack of a central focus when it comes to "truly apocalyptic" events, such as a nuclear bomb attack or a widespread biological weapons attack. To address this, the Bush administration has launched the $227.3 million Domestic Nuclear Detection Initiative, focusing on developing new materials for nuclear detection.

The FY2006 budget "puts the brakes" on defense as well as domestic spending; the former will only see modest increases - compared to large increases over the past three years to fund military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan-while the latter is being held flat for the third year in a row, according to Koizumi's preliminary analysis. This means that "There will be ferocious competition for resources if Congress agrees to hold the line on defense spending," he warned, especially since the FY2006 proposed budget does not include funding for the war in Iraq. "There are difficult choices ahead. Will Congress have enough money to add funds for both defense and for homeland security research?"

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Editor: Alan Chodos
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette