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FYI Number 79: July 3, 2002

Science Committee to Draft Legislation on S&T and Homeland Security

The House Science Committee will draft legislation on July 10 in response to President Bush's proposal for a Department of Homeland Security. This action follows two committee hearings held late last month on science and technology to combat terrorism.

As outlined in FYI #74, the new Department would encompass some of the activities of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Title III of the President's legislation would establish an Under Secretary for Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Countermeasures. Two Commerce Department cyber-security units, including one at NIST, would be moved to the new Department. These transfers, and the duties of the new Under Secretary seem to be the major concerns of the Science Committee about the President's bill.

The committee's first hearing on June 25 received testimony from Lewis M. Branscomb of Harvard University and Richard D. Klausner of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. They were the co-chairs for a National Academy of Sciences report entitled "Making the Nation Safer: Science and Technology for Countering Terrorism." This study was started in December 2001 with the Academy's own funds. The Academy established a committee of 24 experts in science, engineering, medicine, and policy. One of Branscomb and Klausner's major points in their joint testimony was the need for a Homeland Security Institute with "strong analytical capability" to help the current Office of Homeland Security, and later the Department of Homeland Security. They said, "This institute would be a dedicated, nonprofit, contractor-operated organization. Experts hired by the institute would provide analysis, simulation, and modeling to identify vulnerabilities and assess the effectiveness of steps taken to reduce them." See the National Academy's site at for information concerning the report.

Committee members and Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) responded positively to the witnesses. Committee chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) described R&D as a critical component of homeland defense, but also said that it would be "extremely unwise" to locate all of the R&D agencies with a homeland defense function within one agency. "Finding that balance is no mean trick," he said. Wyden stressed the need for any approach to be bipartisan. Among those concerns that surfaced at this hearing was the Bush proposal to move some of NIST's cyber-security functions to the new Department. Rep. Vern Ehlers (R-MI) was particularly supportive of the Homeland Security Institute, although he criticized the proposed level of funding for this kind of analysis within the new Department.

A few days later a second hearing was held, with OSTP Director John Marburger, DOE Office of Science Director Ray Orbach, and John Tritak, Director of the Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office in the Department of Commerce, as the three witnesses. Marburger described the Under Secretary position, and called Lawrence Livermore "the hub" for the coordination of countermeasures to terrorism within the proposed Department. He said the new department was designed to be very flexible, agile, and fast-paced to meet any threat. Orbach characterized the President's plan, particularly that concerning the Under Secretary, as making "good sense." A director of homeland security would be assigned in each of the ten national labs as a single point of contact for universities engaged in research. Most of Tritak's testimony was devoted to the transfer of two Commerce Department cyber- security operations to the new Department.

Boehlert intends to refine the S&T components of the President's legislation, and his questions and those of his colleagues revealed their concerns. Boehlert wants an Under Secretary for Research and Development, criticizing the Administration's proposed position as too narrow in scope. Pointing to the Academy report's recommendation for an Under Secretary of Technology, Boehlert told Marburger that the committee hoped to work with the Administration on refining the position called for in the legislation. Boehlert also liked the NAS recommendation for a Homeland Security Institute. Marburger would only say that it was "an interesting idea" warranting consideration.

There was much concern about the Administration's proposals regarding the transfer of the Commerce Department's cyber- security units. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) said private industry was "very, very alarmed" about the proposal. Rep. Connie Morella (R-MD) and Rep. Ehlers shared these concerns, Ehlers calling the plan to move affected NIST employees a "horrible mistake."

Other members expressed worries or criticism about the President's bill. Marburger told the committee that the functions pulled into the new Department will be "a matter of some judgement," later admitting, "we may not have it all right." Later, Marburger said the Administration was very appreciative of the Academy's work, did not feel it was incompatible with the Administration's thinking, and that it would carefully study the NAS proposals.

Toward the conclusion of the hearing, Orbach described what he envisions for Lawrence Livermore's role in homeland security. It would be a headquarters for R&D for the Department of Homeland Security, he said, in "almost a campus." The lab would have close ties with near-by operations doing critical work in the life sciences. Advanced computational capability would be a must.

The House Committee on Science will mark up its portion of the bill on July 10. Congressional leaders are moving quickly to pass this legislation by September 11.

Richard M. Jones
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
(301) 209-3095

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