Scientist urges DHS to shelve BioWatch upgrade

The undersecretary for science and technology for the Department of Homeland Security recently advised the department's secretary that an upgrade for the BioWatch system should be cancelled.

Tara O'Toole, the undersecretary for science and technology for the DHS, recently told Janet Napolitano, the secretary of Homeland Security, that the upgrade to the Generation 3 version of BioWatch should be cancelled. BioWatch is a system used by the U.S to detect biological attacks, the Los Angeles Times reports.

O'Toole said that the upgrade to BioWatch could be relied on to detect deadly biological pathogens in case of an attack, but expressed concern that the $3.1 billion upgrade could take money away from benefits she thought were more important.

Napolitano is considering whether or not to approve plans for a five year Generation 3 contract. Some Homeland Security officials want to upgrade the program, but Napolitano has not discussed how she plans to proceed.

The DHS denied requests from the chairmen of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and its investigative panel for minutes or emails of meetings in which O'Toole expressed her opinions on BioWatch, citing a need for confidentiality.

The current system for BioWatch is not able to distinguish harmful materials from benign and genetically similar organisms in the environment. The upgrade would theoretically allow for the system to report results in four to six hours instead of 12 to 36 hours like the current system. Testers said Generation 3 continues to give false readings and requires maintenance more often than a proposed plan of once per month, the Los Angeles Times reports.