GAO faults DHS for BioWatch debacle

A recent report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office is highly critical of the manner in which the Department of Homeland Security rushed to develop a new version of the BioWatch biological pathogen surveillance system.

The GAO, a non-partisan investigative arm of Congress, said the DHS did not fully evaluate whether the new system would be needed or would function properly. It has recommended that the department reevaluate the program to determine whether it is financially responsible, according to the Los Angeles Times.

DHS has already spent more than $150 million to develop the next generation of biological agent sensor equipment, currently known as Generation 3.

Homeland Security officials are attempting to maintain support among legislators for the BioWatch program, as well as for its latest iteration. Two House subcommittees are currently scheduled to discuss the issue in the upcoming days.

The GAO report places blame on officials in both the Obama and George W. Bush administrations, and states that Homeland Security did not follow good acquisition practices and has not adequately justified the need for an overhaul of the current system.

"None of these officials could describe what processes, if any, the department followed to determine that Gen-3 was a justified need," the report said, the Los Angeles Times reports.

The U.S. government spent approximately $1 billion on the existing system and the estimated costs for Generation 3 have escalated to $3.1 billion over the next five years, despite a 2007 claim by a department undersecretary that the new system would be four times cheaper to operate.

"The total annual cost to operate Gen-3 is estimated to be about four times more than the cost of the existing BioWatch system," the report said, the Los Angeles Times reports.