Staffers on a House of Representatives panel are seeking Homeland Security Department records on the functioning of a nationwide network of sensors for identifying acts of biological terrorism, the Los Angeles Times reported in December.
The move by the House Energy and Commerce Committee followed calls by two top GOP members for documentation on the Biowatch program. Information sought by the staffers includes undisclosed statements by Homeland Security Undersecretary for Science and Technology Tara O'Toole, who advocated cancellation of a $3.1 billion plan to develop a third generation of Biowatch detection equipment.
A 2012 Los Angeles Times report enumerated a number of technical shortcomings of the Biowatch program, which deploys sensors that scan the environment for disease agents in more than 30 cities. Biowatch detectors from 2003 through 2009 reportedly raised in excess of 50 false alerts of a potential bioterrorism attack. Computer exercises have also determined that the sensors are not reliable, among other challenges facing the initiative.