Wizards of Oz

"Life is fraughtless ... when you're thoughtless."

6.6.08

DHS S&T Summary

It was a good week at the Reagan Building & International Trade Center, where I was a guest of MountainRunner (as one of his invited "bloggers") covering the Dept of Homeland Security Science & Technology Stakeholders' Conference. It was a great chance to meet several 'blogfriends in person, as well as several new faces like Dr. Amy Zalman (who aptly noted the unspoken theme of "persistent surveillance" at this week's show) and Jonah Czerwinski (whose several posts can be found here, along with others related to "Technology for Homeland Security").

'Bloghost MountainRunner was featured prominently in a Sharon Weinberger piece at WIRED's Danger Room, and Michael Tanji's ThreatsWatch post raises the excellent consideration of management process to govern capability development. My own posts, tagged "liveblog", are here.

I was most surprised to note that, while Undersecretary of Homeland Security (Science & Technology) Jay Cohen is the former Chief of Naval Research, the bulk of the technical content presented at this week's conference comes from the Department of Energy. DoE representatives dominated the agenda (particularly the plenary panel discussions, where one panel was fully dedicated to DoE National Labs) as well as the exhibit floor (where booths featured Lawrence Livermore National Lab, Battelle, National Nuclear Security Administration, Nevada Test Site and hometown big-wig B&W Y-12).

My conclusion? While U.S. Northern Command is the "Executive Agent" for DHS S&T's experimentation campaign, the preponderance of technical and research content is driven by the Department of Energy.

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7 Comments:

At 6/6/08 11:02 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very interesting. Since we don't have an energy problem, it makes a lot of sense for DOENERY to be heavily involved in DHS R&D. I'll bet it wasn't DOE proper, but folks from National Labs who have nothing else to do but chase the boogie-man!

Is there no end to this !@#$%^ Bush administration!!

Disgusted.

 
At 6/6/08 16:24 , Blogger deichmans said...

Anon,

Pejoratives aside, I think this is a *good* thing. Work done in energy research could be very applicable to DHS challenges, so the two are not mutually exclusive. For instance, the same sensor capabilities that help ensure safe and effective operation of, say, a nuclear power plant would be just as helpful for a Customs and Border Protection officer concerned about dangerous fissile material crossing into our country.

Collaboration across federal agencies should be encouraged, and I am very pleased to see USHLS(S&T) Cohen expand his list of stakeholders -- just as I am pleased to see the National Labs possessing the entrepreneurial spirit to bring their ideas and solutions to a wider set of clients.

 
At 9/6/08 10:10 , Blogger J. said...

You're overexaggerating DOE's capabilities. Their labs got into the "domestic CB response" business in 1998 because 1) they saw their traditional nuke focus going downhill and 2) they accurately identified a "gap" in federal oversight roles. When DHS stood up, the overwhelming majority of DHS S&T leadership came from the DOE labs. As a result, they only go back to their old friends and labs instead of working with the broader resources available from industry and academia.

DOE doesn't have an entrepenerial spirit, they have an aggressive anti-competition spirit because they don't know WHAT they would do if they lost DHS grants. And the biggest problem with DHS going solely to DOE labs is that no one in the DOE labs knows how to transition lab work to something actually used in the field.

Commercial businesses do that all the time, but they can't get in the door. It's beyond time to give DOE scientists the boot through the same door and let some new ideas come in.

 
At 9/6/08 10:59 , Blogger deichmans said...

Hmmm.... Sounds like a touchy topic with you, J.

While I can't speak for the early DHS S&T leadership, I can say unequivocally that the current DHS S&T leadership is dominated by ONR alums.

Your generalities ("doesn't have an entrepreneurial spirit"; "no one in the DOE labs knows how to transition lab work to something actually used in the field") are vague and indefensible. Do you have any specific grievances you'd like to air?

 
At 9/6/08 13:08 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

After looking at the conference agenda, it seems clear that some labs have made the transition from Nuclear to Energy: ORNL and others haven't: LLNL.

When Congress created NNSA as a self-autonomous agency within DOE, DOE didn't go far enough at the site level as NNSA sites, even though only doing ~50% weapons, are constrained by NNSA rules. These sites find it very hard to attract non weapons work at very high weapons rates.

Its time for the new admin coming in to clean house and reformulate both energy and weapons!

 
At 9/6/08 15:37 , Blogger deichmans said...

Anon. #2,

You nailed it. I began my career as a college intern at LLNL, where the corporate culture was clearly focused on things related to weapons (lasers to better understand fusion, etc.).

ORNL has done a great job diversifying its research agenda, largely due to the vision of its Directors 20 years ago (Weinberg and Postma in particular) who built the "bio / info / nano" vision.

 
At 9/6/08 15:53 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

deichmans:

Ditto Sandia on diversification.

ORNL was apparently able to spin off Y-12 as an NNSA site and establish ORNL as a science site. They were smart.

With the Bechtel crowd at LANL and LLNL, they seem hell bent on making everything fit their mold: a cost-plus engineering project.

 

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