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Procurement of Next-Generation Bioagent Sensors Falling Behind

The program to procure more advanced sensors that could sound the alarm in the event of a biological weapons attack has fallen off schedule, a senior Homeland Security Department official told U.S. lawmakers last week (see GSN, Oct. 20, 2011).

Homeland Security Health Affairs Office chief Alexander Garza said "there's going to be slips in the schedule and there's nothing that I can do -- that anybody can do -- to prevent those," according to FierceHomelandSecurity.com.

Garza's agency is trying to field a third generation of Biowatch detectors with capabilities greater than existing systems, including the ability to analyze air samples and digitally deliver findings within four to six hours. Biowatch detectors now deployed in more than 30 large cities require 12 to 36 hours to deliver findings in part because their filters need to physically removed and transported to a scientific facility for study.

The Health Affairs Office is seeking nearly $166.5 million in fiscal 2013 funding, $125 million of which would be directed toward the Biowatch program. The DHS branch intends to carry out operational trials and assessments of the Generation 3 sensors in four U.S. metropolitan areas.

However, Garza told members of the House Homeland Security Emergency Preparedness, Response and Communications Subcommittee that only one contractor's sensor has progressed to the point of being ready for operational testing. The OHA head said he could "make no guarantees that it'll make it through the next phase of testing."

The ultimate question of whether the program has fallen off schedule "depends if you're looking at the acquisition timeline or if you're looking at 'Hey, this is a new technology,'" Garza said. "If you look at the acquisition timeline, it's slipped -- absolutely it's slipped" (David Perera, FireceHomelandSecurity.com, April 2).

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