Congress schedules hearings on BioWatch

Two congressional subcommittees are now scheduled to review the controversial U.S. Department of Homeland Security BioWatch system.

Proposals to develop the next generation of the BioWatch system, which was designed to automatically test for the presence of dangerous biological agents in major U.S. cities, have been put on hold amid reports of numerous problems with the program, according to UPI.

As part of the BioWatch program, scientists began analyzing air samples collected from 30 U.S. cities beginning in 2003. A recent investigation by the Los Angeles Times, however, found that the program has not been as effective as advertised.

The L.A. Times found that there have been 56 false alarms since 2003 and that it is possible that analysis conducted on the samples would not be sensitive to detect an actual attack.

DHS quietly postponed proposals for the automated version of the system, known as Generation 3, announcing the change in a three sentence posting on a government website. The posting provided no reason for the change, but scientists familiar with the controversy said it reflects a lack of confidence in the technology, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The program has already cost taxpayers an estimated $1 billion and the new system is expected to cost nearly $3.1 billion in its first five years of operation.