Tech partners needed for US security initiative

Private companies can play a role in national security by pitching technology projects to the US Department of Homeland Security...

Private companies can play a role in national security by pitching technology projects to the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and other agencies, agency representatives said yesterday.

DHS has begun to solicit the private sector for technologies to combat biological and chemical weapons, and the agency will look for more technology partners in the future, said David Bolka, director of the Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency (HSARPA).

HSARPA's annual budget is $874m, with most of its research focused on ways to counter terrorist attacks using chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapons. A September call for the "next generation" of chemical and biological detectors generated 518 white papers from private companies, with a few "true nuggets" in those submissions, Bolka said, but he admitted that a quarter of the white papers were what he called "nonresponsive" because they tried to pitch DHS technologies it was not looking for.

The bulk of HSARPA's funding will be spent on existing or soon-to-be emerging domestic security problems, with only about 10-15% going to futuristic, "blue-sky" technology projects.

"As we satisfy the near-term requirements, I think there will be good opportunity to look at the five- or 10-year, or even the 15-year, picture," said Bolka.

The US government needs private companies to partner with on a variety of other technology-related domestic security projects, including biometric scanners, Wi-Fi radio communications, wireless surveillance cameras and data collection and fusion.

"What's driving homeland security technology is one word: partnerships," said Benjamin Wu, deputy undersecretary for technology at the US Department of Commerce. "We need to build these technological bridges. The bridges we build will lead to a safer world."

Grant Gross writes for IDG News Service

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