Congressional panel says DHS withheld documents on BioWatch performance

The Department of Homeland Security and other government officials responsible for a nationwide system for detecting biological attacks known as BioWatch allegedly withheld key documents sought by a congressional committee.

Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), the head of the oversight and investigations subcommittee, recently wrote a letter to the DHS to call for compliance with a request for documents.

The original document request to Janet Napolitano, the secretary of Homeland Security, was sent after a July 8 Los Angeles Times article that discussed issues with BioWatch's performance, McClatchy-Tribune reports.

"The response from DHS to date has been inadequate, raising serious questions about the department's willingness to cooperate with efforts to ensure the success of the BioWatch program and transparency about its potential failures," Upton and Stearns said, according to McClatchy-Tribune.

Upton and Stearns requested that the items and newly sought materials related to BioWatch be relinquished to the committee by November 26.

BioWatch, which operates in more than 30 major U.S. cities, was launched in 2003 to protect U.S. citizens from biological attacks. A series of false alarms were generated by the system over the last few years and the system may not be reliable enough to detect a biological attack, the Los Angeles Times reports.