The Department of Homeland Security’s $1.2 billion plan to buy radiation-detection machines for the nation’s borders has been delayed amid allegations that officials urged an analyst to destroy data about the machines’ performance.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has told Congress that the new machines would significantly improve the screening of cars, trucks and cargo containers for radiological material. In July 2006, he announced contracts to purchase up to 1,400 of the devices, called advanced spectroscopic portal radiation monitors, or ASPs, which costs $377,000 each, according to the Washington Post.
But Homeland Security spokeswoman Laura Keehner said in a statement that tests of the ASPs by Customs and Border Protection officials disclosed shortcomings that “led to the determination that additional functional capability is needed to meet the operational requirements.”
Now Chertoff has decided the machines need more work, and it could be another year before they are deployed, Homeland Security officials predict.
In a Nov. 16 letter to Congress, the director of the department’s Domestic Nuclear Detection Office said his staff was probing allegations that someone at the DNDO directed personnel from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, who were helping analyze the ASP’s test results, to delete some of the testing data.
Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke acknowledged that the DNDO had contacted an analyst at the Institute, but he told the Post that a review found “there is no indication of anything inappropriate.”
This is not the first time that the plan to deploy the machines has hit a snag. In August, Government Accountability Office auditors charged that DNDO officials had greatly exaggerated the ASP’s effectiveness in an earlier report filed in June.
GAO auditors also found that Homeland Security personnel allowed contractors to “calibrate their machines in anticipation of tests in January and February, a move that auditors said had enhanced the outcome of the tests,” the Post reported.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman, chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, urged Homeland Security “to work quickly to resolve its problems so we can put this technology to work.”
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