DHS acquisitions officer discusses national biosurveillance program at congressional hearing

Chief Acquisitions Officer for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Acting Under Secretary Chris Cummisky described canceled upgrades to the nation's biosurveillance program on Tuesday at a House Committee on Homeland Security, Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response and Communications hearing.

Cummiskey, who oversees the $18 billion annual acquisitions budget for DHS, described a congressional authorization in 2009 to investigate next generation equipment for the BioWatch program, a civilian-managed system deployed in 2003 to detect biological aerosol releases. It was also intended to function as an interface for local and state responders to jointly react to crises.

BioWatch began a technology acquisition process and eventually found ways to significantly reduce sample analysis time. After an analysis of operations in 2013 found that the cost involved to upgrading the BioWatch would be too great, however, DHS decided not to upgrade the program.

Cummiskey said he convened a meeting in April with the Science and Technology Directorate to find ways to improve the BioWatch program.

"While there is still much work to do, the Department has made significant strides in improving acquisition and investment management for the Department's portfolio of major programs," Cummiskey said. "I believe we are making progress in shifting the paradigm so investment decisions are more empirically driven and there is qualified technical expertise to support program managers at each phase of the life cycle."