The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has canceled the new generation of autonomous biodetection program after a Congressional oversight committee criticized the department’s acquisition process.
The biodetection program called BioWatch Generation-3 (Gen-3) would have operated 24 hours a day, year round in U.S. population centers to continuously monitor the air for agents of biological concern and give officials an early warning capability.
An investigation by the Government Accountability Office concluded that the program’s upgraded capabilities from its current system were not worth the price of the investment, and that the DHS failed to properly follow its acquisition processes.
“DHS remains committed to the BioWatch program and will ensure that current BioWatch operations continue as part of our layered approach to biodefense,” DHS spokesman S.Y. Lee says in a statement regarding the program’s cancellation. “This decision (to cancel the acquisition) is in line with the department’s focus on efficiency, ensuring that we continue to pursue cost-effective acquisition without compromising our security.”
In 2009, Congress appropriated $34.5 million for field testing of the upgraded technology of Gen-3 BioWatch system.
“The BioWatch program plays an important role in the department’s layered approach to mitigate new and evolving threats by providing nationwide biosurveillance capability,” Chris Cummiskey, DHS’s acting undersecretary for management and chief acquisition officer, told members of the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response and Communications on Tuesday. “BioWatch Generation-2 (Gen-2) is successfully monitoring for selected aerosolized biothreat agents in highly populated areas. I want to reaffirm the Secretary’s [Jeh Johnson] commitment to Gen-2 as the department’s program of record for aerosolized biological threat detection.”
The BioWatch Program is the only federally managed, locally operated nationwide biosurveillance system designed to detect select aerosolized biological agents. “The Department remains committed to the BioWatch program and the cancellation of this acquisition has no impact on current operations within the Office of Health Affairs,” says a DHS official. Though canceled, experts from the DHS’s Office of Health Affairs and the Science and Technology Directorate are exploring potential technologies for future development and deployment.