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GAO Urges Improved DHS Guidelines for Using WMD Threat Analyses

The U.S. Homeland Security Department should create more detailed recommendations to guide its offices as they consider how to utilize WMD threat analyses in response preparations and resource acquisition and distribution decisions, the Government Accountability Office advised in a report released on Wednesday (see GSN, Jan. 3).

The department in the last eight years has provided no less than $70 million for preparation of more than 20 studies of the dangers posed by chemical, biological, nuclear and radiological weapons materials, according to the GAO report. "DHS guidance states that response planning and resource decisions should be informed by risk information," it says.

However, those analyses have only been been employed directly for two out of the 12 WMD response plans prepared by the department. Homeland Security planners reported that the analyses offered "background information" for an additional seven plans, though congressional auditors could not confirm that claim. The other three plans were developed without any input from the analyses, with officials involved in developing two of the plans saying they had no knowledge of the studies.

In addition, "since 2004, DHS's use of its CBRN assessments to inform its CBRN-specific capabilities has varied, from directly impacting its capabilities to not being used at all," the GAO release states.

Auditors noted the department did heavily rely on its pathogen threat analysis to verify that the DHS biosurveillance initiative, Biowatch, could in the main successfully identify the presence of those disease materials with the greatest capacity to harm humans.

Congressional investigators noted that Homeland Security "and its components do not have written procedures to institutionalize their use of DHS's CBRN risk assessments for CBRN response planning and capability investment decisions.

"Standards for internal control in the federal government call for written procedures to better ensure management's directives are enforced. DHS does not have the procedures that stipulate when and how DHS officials should use the department's CBRN risk assessments to inform CBRN response planning and capability investment decisions," according to the GAO report.

The Government Accountability Office called for preparation of such guiding procedures. Homeland Security concurred (U.S. Government Accountability Office release, Jan. 25).

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