DHS cancels plans to upgrade BioWatch

The Department of Homeland Security cancelled its plans on Thursday to install an automated technology meant to speed up the operations of BioWatch, the national system used to detect biological attacks.

Jeh Johnson, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, issued the cancellation of BioWatch's Generation 3 acquisition. Officials with the department previously told companies interested in supplying the technology it would spend $3.1 billion for the upgrade during the first five years of operation, Emergency Management reports.

Michael Walter, the program manager for BioWatch, said the department remains committed to the program and the importance of improving U.S. early warning and detection technologies.

Johnson's decision to cancel the technology reverses years of policy in support of Generation 3. Officials told the House that Generation 3 would be four times cheaper to operate than the existing system and that the system would be imperative to saving thousands of lives. Despite the testimonies, doubts grew behind the scenes.

Tests in 2007 and 2008 in the New York subway system produced multiple false readings. Field tests in Chicago in 2011 found the prototype could not operate independently without manual servicing for more than a week at a time. Articles published by the Los Angeles Times in 2012 and 2013 reported numerous BioWatch deficiencies, particularly in the system's durability and reliability.

A review by the Government Accountability Office remains ongoing. A report by the GAO in September 2012 estimated annual costs to operate Generation 3 would be approximately four times higher than for the existing BioWatch system, Emergency Management reports.