Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Homeland Security Dept. Cancels BioWatch Technology after Spending $1 Billion on Program

Jeh Johnson
ALLGOV | May 5, 2014 | Steve Straehley

Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson has decided to pull the plug on the much-heralded, but very expensive and unsuccessful, Generation 3 BioWatch technology.

BioWatch is a national system that is supposed to guard against an attack with biological agents. The Generation 3 version was supposed to operate autonomously, save money and guard against a large-scale outdoor biological attack. But in 2013, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) revised its thinking on such attacks, saying they were more likely to be on a smaller, yet still deadly, scale. The BioWatch system is not able to consistently guard against such incidents.

DHS has already spent $1.1 billion on BioWatch and had told prospective contractors that it would spend up to $3.1 billion on the Generation 3 technology over five years, according to the Los Angeles Times. DHS spokesman S.Y. Lee said the cancellation reflected a commitment to “cost-effective acquisition without compromising our security.”

According to a 2012 report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), “DHS approved the Gen-3 acquisition in October 2009 without fully developing critical knowledge that would help ensure sound investment decision making, pursuit of optimal solutions, and reliable performance, cost, and schedule information.” In other words, the report said, DHS went ahead with the project before determining if there was a need for it.

The entire BioWatch system, which has been deployed in 30 U.S. cities and at major sporting events and political conventions, has been fraught with problems. A prototype installed in the New York City subway system produced many false readings. A later prototype placed in Chicago was unable to operate without being serviced at least once a week.

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