Europeans install radiation detectors as U.S. question detectors' efficacy

Published 30 November 2007

U.S. legislators raise questions about DHS’s $1.4 billion program which aims to deploy nuclear radiation detectors in U.S. ports; GAO raises questions about test methodology of latest technology; Europeans, though forge ahead with port deployment

U.S. legislators raise questions about the state of nuclear radiation detection in the United States, while in Europe they are forging ahead with installing more of them:

* Senator Charles Schumer (D-New York) has asked DHS secretary Michael Chertoff to consider canceling $1.2 billion worth of contracts with three companies for a new kind of radiation detection machine for use on the nation’s borders. Schumer sent a letter to Chertoff last week, following a story in the Washington Post about the contracts and a much-delayed project to deploy of up to 1,400 of the machines. The story said that Chertoff had done an about face and said the machines needed more work after praising them as ready for the field for more than a year. Deployment of the machines — advanced spectroscopic radiation portal monitors which cost $377,000 each — has been delayed several times by questions about whether DHS officials have been forthcoming about their cost and effectiveness. “In addition to pursuing improvements with existing contractors during the next year, I urge you to explore whether other companies may be well situated to deliver the needed capabilities,” Schumer wrote in his letter. “The advanced monitors are evidently not as ready for deployment as they were believed to be when these contracts were announced.”

Relatively little has been spent on the contracts so far, but government investigators and lawmakers worry about delays caused by disputes over the program and the effectiveness of the machines.

European officials are forging ahead with plans to deploy more expensive next-generation radiation detectors at ports in Belgium and the Netherlands even as the United States is delaying plans to deploy the new equipment owing to questions about technical efficacy. Last week DHS officials announced that the department was slowing plans to roll out 1,400 monitors as part of a $1.2 billion multiyear project. GSN’s John Fox writes that in field tests, the new Advanced Spectroscopic Portal monitors, or ASPs, “led to the determination that additional functional capacity is needed to meet the operational standards,” a department spokeswoman announced. The announcement means the machines could take another year to reach U.S. ports, and it comes after more than a year of tussles between DHS officials and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) over how effective the technology is as well as testing methods used to evaluate it. The debate over the new equipment was apparent