Congress requests BioWatch documents

Members of Congress are pushing Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to address concerns about BioWatch, the national system for detecting the release of deadly biological agents.

House leaders from both parties recently issued letters about reported shortcomings in BioWatch's performance, particularly about dozens of false alarms, according to the L.A. Times.

Representative Fred Upton (R-Mich.), who heads the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Representative Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) asked for access to DHS emails and other internal documents related to BioWatch.

In a separate letter sent to Dr. Thomas Frieden, the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Upton and Stearns asked for other BioWatch-related documents. The CDC has worked with DHS on the biodetection system since it was first introduced in 30 cities in 1993, the L.A. Times reports.

In his letter to Napolitano, Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) noted deficiencies with the current BioWatch system, as well as with "Generation 3," which is being designed to provide less costly and faster detection capabilities.

The prototypes for the new technology have malfunctioned in laboratory and field testing over the past few years, according to the L.A. Times.

Napolitano and her aides are currently deciding whether or not to proceed with Generation 3, which would cost an estimated $3.1 billion over the next five years. BioWatch has already cost taxpayers an estimated $1 billion.