Sunset for the National Homeland Security Research Center (NHSRC) may not come as scheduled in 2005 due to continuing needs for security research and development in the water sector and an ever-expanding list of security requirements facing EPA under recent Homeland Security Presidential Directives (HSPDs).
At a meeting convened in April by EPA's Office of Research and Development (ORD), key federal agencies and stakeholders - including AMWA and other water sector representatives - provided a mid-term evaluation and discussed the future of NHSRC. The center was established in 2002 to focus on immediate security research needs and is slated to be discontinued at the end of FY05.
Recognizing the critical need for delivering technical information and guidance to users in the water industry and emergency response community as soon as possible, EPA established a goal at the formation of NHSRC to deliver as much of the important guidance as possible within three years. The sunset deadline was intended to set the necessary pace for the critical research.
At a May 19 hearing of the House Environment Subcommittee on EPA's FY05 budget request, the agency's Science Advisor, Paul Gilman, outlined the conclusions from stakeholder discussions:
* EPA efforts to establish a sound, focused and responsive homeland security research program in only 18 months are impressive;
* The guidance and information developed and anticipated are relevant and important steps toward protecting facilities and responding to chemical and biological terror attacks;
* The scope and magnitude of remaining and evolving science needs are significantly beyond what ORD can provide in three years; and,
* EPA should continue its research beyond three years to improve protection and decontamination guidance and begin to address the new and evolving needs identified by the participants.
Gilman also described EPA's analysis of strategic homeland security research priorities at the federal level, including DHS priorities and expectations of the agency, as well as requirements associated with Homeland Security Presidential Directives, particularly HSPD-7, -9 and -10.
"From these examinations, it is clear that EPA will have continuing and, in fact, increasing responsibilities to support the national effort," he told lawmakers. "These include lead responsibilities for coordinating water surveillance for infrastructure protection and decontamination following chemical and biological agent terror attacks. Each of these responsibilities carries with it the need for research to develop improved data, technology and protocols for characterizing the environmental impact of an attack; assessing risk; and determining appropriate, cost-effective approaches for response and decontamination," Gilman said.
Gilman advised the panel that EPA would give a more complete picture of its long-term plans for homeland security and for NHSRC when it releases its FY06 budget request in February 2005.