DHS Nuclear Office Misled Congress on Radiation Detector, GAO Finds – CQ Homeland Security

The Department of Homeland Security office charged with developing nuclear smuggling countermeasures essentially misled Congress over the course of several budget requests, saying that it was still planning on deploying radiation-detecting equipment for a project that was discontinued in 2007, according to a new Government Accountability Office report.

The GAO found that the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO) abandoned the cargo advanced automated radiography system (CAARS) two years after its creation in 2005, yet budget justifications for fiscal 2010 and 2011 said the program was continuing a testing campaign that would lead to an eventual cost-benefit analysis of the technology.

DNDO continued to test the machines as late as March of 2010, but did so without an indication that the units would see operational use, and thus its budget documents “did not reflect the actual status of the program,” said the GAO report, which found that CAARS has cost $113 million to date.

DNDO intended CAARS as a way to help Customs and Border Protection find heavily shielded nuclear material, and issued a development contract for the project and projected that it would cost about $1.5 billion. But the office never held in-depth discussions with CBP on the issue until 2007 — shortly before the cancelation — when customs officials said they did not want the machines. CAARS units would not fit into cargo inspection lanes and would slow the flow of commerce, CBP said.

The GAO findings were received with consternation during a Tuesday Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing.

“You’re in the hot-seat,” Chairman Joseph I. Lieberman, I-Conn., told Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Jane Holl Lute from the outset of testimony.