U.S. Drops Work on Next-Gen Bioweapon Sensors

Global Security Newswire Staff
April 29, 2014, 9:29 a.m.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion killed a mult­i­bil­lion-dol­lar pro­pos­al to de­ploy new, self-op­er­at­ing bioweapon sensors in U.S. cit­ies, the Los Angeles Times re­ports.

Home­land Se­cur­ity Sec­ret­ary Jeh John­son last week fi­nal­ized plans to forgo the pro­cure­ment of a third gen­er­a­tion of Biowatch tech­no­logy, re­vers­ing his de­part­ment’s long­time push to de­ploy sensors that per­son­nel would not need to check reg­u­larly for or­gan­isms from an un­fold­ing bio­lo­gic­al at­tack.

The policy shift sig­nals a ded­ic­a­tion to “cost-ef­fect­ive ac­quis­i­tion without com­prom­ising our se­cur­ity,” Home­land Se­cur­ity spokes­man S.Y. Lee said.

The pro­posed up­date was ex­pec­ted to carry a $3.1 bil­lion price tag for its first five years of use, where­as the ex­ist­ing Biowatch pro­gram has cost $1.1 bil­lion since 2003.

Pri­or re­port­ing re­vealed a his­tory of in­ac­cur­ate read­ings from the ex­ist­ing sensors, as well as prob­lems con­cern­ing the de­pend­ab­il­ity of the de­vel­op­ment­al de­tec­tion gear.

Home­land Se­cur­ity “re­mains com­mit­ted to the Biowatch pro­gram and the im­port­ance of im­prov­ing our early warn­ing and de­tec­tion tech­no­lo­gies,” said Mi­chael Wal­ter, who over­sees the de­tec­tion sys­tem now de­ployed in more than 30 U.S. cit­ies.

Con­gres­sion­al aud­it­ors are still re­view­ing the activ­it­ies of ex­ist­ing Biowatch sensors, fol­low­ing an Au­gust call by House law­makers to as­sess pos­sible “ad­di­tion­al be­ne­fits” from any up­grade. The United States as of 2012 had spent $150 mil­lion to de­vel­op the next-gen­er­a­tion tech­no­logy, ac­cord­ing to the Gov­ern­ment Ac­count­ab­il­ity Of­fice.

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