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Does DHS Spend Too Much on Short-Term Technology?

​In an article on new technology turn-around for homeland security projects, Business Week wonders if the Department of Homeland Security pours too much time and money into short-term technologies that fill present security gaps at the disadvantage of long-term technological progress.

Some experts also fret that too narrow a research focus could leave the U.S. unprepared for threats that can't be foreseen, as was the case with the shoe bomber. "The concern about research being too applied and focused on current agendas is that we're not therefore planning for the war after next or for the national security horizon after the one that we can see," says John Kao, a consultant and author of the book Innovation Nation, which argues that the U.S. is losing its innovation edge. "Your model for what constitutes valuable technology will change a lot depending on what you think the threat is."

In just the few years since the government created the Homeland Security Dept., priorities already have shifted. At first, the main focus was on terrorism, but emergency preparedness took on added urgency after Hurricane Katrina. "There's been a lot of give and take between Congress and Science & Technology about what kinds of threats DHS needs to address," says Koizumi of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Amy Kudwa, a spokesperson for DHS, says the department's R&D money goes where emergency responders and agencies within DHS say it's most needed. More than half of this money goes to "product transition" or those technologies that will take fewer than three years to bear fruit. Kudlow says this strategy makes the best sense because DHS' experienced customers know what their greatest short-term vulnerabilities are.

However, long-term R&D must be gaining in importance, as Kudlow told Business Week that DHS is boosting its budget for basic research—which takes anywhere from eight years or more of development to be productive— from its current 13 percent to 20 percent in the next few years.

The article also features some of the new homeland security technologies that came from short-term DHS R&D, but the coolest technology is the one being worked on now: cell phones for emergency responders that can detect biological, chemical, and radiological agents.