BioWatch upgrade postponed by Homeland Security

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has postponed its plans to purchase technology that could have served as an upgrade to BioWatch, the country's system for the detection of biological attacks.

In a statement on its website last month, Homeland Security pushed the time frame for soliciting final proposals to the final quarter of 2012. Scientists with knowledge of the matter said that the development may demonstrate a lack of confidence in the new technology. In 2011, the department said that it would award a five year, $3.1 billion contract in mid-May 2012 during the first five years of the upgrade's operation, the Los Angeles Times reports.

The new technology, known as Generation 3, will be discussed on Thursday in a hearing before two House subcommittees. The U.S. General Accountability Office recently conducted a review on the technology and will discuss its findings during the hearing.

Technicians collect filters from each BioWatch air-sampling unit daily and deliver it to a public health lab to search for anthrax or other targeted pathogens. Through 2008, the system has yielded at least 56 false alarms. One such alarm threatened to interrupt the 2008 Democratic National Convention, according to the Los Angeles Times.

BioWatch was instituted in early 2003 when President George W. Bush introduced it as the first early-warning network to detect a biological attack. The program has cost taxpayers approximately $1 billion thus far.