Committee Examines the Role of Federal Research to Advance Security Technologies

Jul 19, 2012
Committee Examines the Role of Federal Research to Advance Security Technologies

Washington DC – The Committee on Science, Space, and Technology today held a hearing to examine the federally-funded research and development (R&D) of threat detection technologies. Witnesses discussed the evolution of threat detection R&D, including how future threats are anticipated, as well as the ways in which stakeholders conduct and apply research to protect the public and to mitigate threats. Further, witnesses explored how relevant federal agencies and laboratories coordinate and work with the private sector to ensure that research supports marketable and economical products.

“We recognize that the terrorists only need to get it right once to succeed, whereas we need to get it right every time to ensure the protection of our citizens,” noted Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX).  “The research and development activities occurring at our federal agencies have the potential to both transform and improve threat detection, and to create products and technologies that could be beneficial for other purposes.  While I recognize that threat detection is only one piece of a much larger system required to combat terrorism, better detection does enable better protection for our citizens.  As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Prior to the September 11th terrorist attacks, the threat of terrorism from both the international and domestic environment was not as evident as it is today. To counter the growing list of threats and prevent a variety of attacks on the country, and to ensure quick response capabilities, the U.S. government and the private sector expanded R&D into technologies that could detect dangerous materials.

Dr. Huban Gowadia, Acting Director of DHS’s Domestic Nuclear Detection Office, discussed some of the great technological advancements that have been made. “Along with intelligence and law enforcement, technology is fundamental in our ability to detect nuclear threats,” Dr. Gowadia said.  “In recent years, there have been dramatic advancements in nuclear detection technology… As a result, frontline responders and law enforcement officials now regularly use detection equipment to search for, find, and identify nuclear materials in the field.”

Dr. Anthony Peurrung, discussed the promise of improving technologies through research at our nation’s National Laboratories. “Significant advances in threat detection technology are ongoing, and there is an exciting vision for the future. New discoveries have the ability to transform the way threats are detected in such places as our airports and border crossings,” Dr. Peurrung said.

Representing the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Dr. Richard Cavanagh expanded on the importance of standards for detection technologies.  “Standards play an important role in reliable threat detection, as they establish the reproducibility of the measurement, comparability of measurements made at different locations with different technologies, and the comparability of historical data to the data available today… Standards are important in quantifying the level of confidence that can be placed in the data.”

Discussing the multi-discipline research conducted at the National Science Foundation that supports threat detection, Dr. Thomas Peterson testified that such fundamental research has significantly contributed to physical threat detection.  “To truly understand threat detection technologies requires expertise not only in engineering and physical sciences, but in life sciences, social and behavioral sciences and education as well.  NSF serves all those communities, and our support in this area taps on all those strengths,” Peterson said.

The following witnesses testified today before the Subcommittee:
Dr. Richard Cavanagh, Director, Office of Special Programs, National Institute of Standards and Technology

Dr. Huban Gowadia, Acting Director, Domestic Nuclear Detection Office, Department of Homeland Security

Dr. Anthony Peurrung, Associate Laboratory Director, National Security Directorate, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Dr. Thomas Peterson, Assistant Director of the Directorate for Engineering, National Science Foundation