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September 29, 2003
Volume 81, Number 39
CENEAR 81 39 pp. 19-23
ISSN 0009-2347

As acting director of Homeland Security's Office of R&D, Maureen McCarthy supports federal research that helps safeguard the nation


DETERMINED AND DEDICATED McCarthy, acting director of DHS's Office of Research & Development in the Science & Technology Directorate, is well placed to become the office's director.
he riptide of Sept. 11, 2001, is still spawning forceful currents. One of those consists of more money--much more money in the next fiscal year--for research and development to enhance homeland security. Most of this money will flow to the Pentagon, the National Institutes of Health, and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), making Maureen I. McCarthy a major financier of the federal homeland security R&D portfolio.

McCarthy, a Ph.D. chemical physicist on detail to DHS from the Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), is acting director of DHS's Office of Research & Development (ORD) in the Science & Technology Directorate. She is well placed to become ORD's director and is enthusiastic about taking on the responsibility of what she describes as "federal stewardship."

By that she means federal responsibilities. "What I direct are those programs that are inherently the responsibility of the federal government to invest in," McCarthy explains. "They are labs, people, and facilities, some of which are DHS owned, some of which are strategic partnerships with the Departments of Defense, Energy, Agriculture, and Health & Human Services."

In addition to managing labs and people at federal facilities, McCarthy's complex and challenging portfolio also includes the obligation of building the nation's enduring capability for homeland security. That translates, she explains, to "ensuring that there is human capital--people dedicated long term to homeland security." She intends to meet this obligation through her Office of University Programs.

Finally, she manages the operational testing and evaluation of technologies and systems for all DHS divisions.

McCarthy helped to set up the science and technology functions at DHS. As defense policy analyst Gerald L. Epstein says, she was at DHS before T = 0. That's his way of saying she was part of the White House transition planning team that helped flesh out the nascent department's science and technology components.

She worked closely with Penrose (Parney) C. Albright who, as science and technology director in DHS's predecessor organization--the White House Office of Homeland Security--was tasked with organizing the science and technology policies, programs, and structure of the soon-to-be department. Albright now heads the Science & Technology Directorate's Office of Programs, Plans & Budgets and, as such, sets the agenda for McCarthy's office.

Homeland Security Department To Become A Major R&D Supporter

President George W. Bush recently asked Congress for an additional $87 billion to rebuild Iraq. He had requested only $29.4 billion for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for fiscal 2004, slightly less than the department's fiscal 2003 budget of $29.8 billion. The 2003 budget consisted of money that transferred with the agencies that moved into the new department.

In July, the Senate passed its first spending bill for the department with a fiscal 2004 appropriation of $29.5 billion, about what Bush asked for. The House's version, approved in June, came in slightly higher, at $30.4 billion. A conference committee agreed on $30.4 billion, with the added funds spread across all programs. Both the House and Senate are expected to approve the conference bill shortly.

The department's Science & Technology Directorate made out quite well. In fact, it is slated to become one of the prime sources of federal R&D funding in fiscal 2004.

This fiscal year, the directorate had $552 million to spend on research and development, money that came with the programs that transferred from the Departments of Defense, Energy, and Agriculture. Bush requested $803 million for fiscal 2004, up 45% over 2003's funding, but Congress was more generous.

The Senate gave the directorate $871 million for fiscal 2004; the House provided $900 million. Both spending bills include $60 million to study ways to protect commercial aircraft from shoulder-fired missiles. Charles E. McQueary, DHS undersecretary for science and technology, just announced that his directorate would soon be seeking proposals for such technology.

At least $350 million of any appropriated funds for science and technology would go to the Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency (HSARPA), the prime supporter of projects from the private sector and academia. A comparable amount of money would pass through the directorate's Office of Research & Development (ORD) to support counterterrorism research at federal laboratories.

Both ORD and HSARPA fund projects selected by portfolio managers in DHS's Office of Programs, Plans & Budgets. In addition to responding to Congress' interest in antiaircraft missile technology, ORD and HSARPA will focus fiscal 2004 funding on countermeasures against biological, chemical, nuclear, and radiological agents; explosive detection systems for the Transportation Security Agency; standards for equipment used by state and local first responders; support for DHS conventional missions (like the U.S. Coast Guard); threat and vulnerability assessments; emerging threats; protecting critical infrastructures; and rapid prototyping of promising technologies for homeland security.

UNTIL HER PRESIDENTIAL appointment becomes a reality, McCarthy remains NNSA's chief scientist, a position she has held since 2000 when the agency was formed as DOE's response to the security lapses at its weapons laboratories. While at NNSA and before serving on the transition team, McCarthy set up and chaired DOE's Counterterrorism/Homeland Security Council. She also headed the U.S. delegation that met for counterterrorism cooperation negotiations with Russia.

In 1999, McCarthy held several senior science advisory positions at DOE. She apprised the secretary of energy on national security and nuclear energy issues and advised an assistant secretary on nonproliferation and national security matters. She gained her expertise in these arenas while serving as the first American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Defense Policy Fellow assigned to the Office of the Secretary of Defense prior to going to DOE. As a fellow, she served as a senior technical adviser to the defense secretary on matters related to two nuclear arms control treaties.

After receiving her Ph.D. in chemical physics from the University of Colorado in 1988 and before her AAAS fellowship, McCarthy served for six years as a senior staff scientist at DOE's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL).

People to whom C&EN has spoken generally agree that McCarthy is very intelligent, a capable technical adviser, and much respected by those who have worked with her as a dedicated, hard worker. "She's a very determined lady and a good fit for the job," says Douglas K. Lemon, leader of PNNL's homeland security initiative.

A national lab manager notes that when McCarthy was appointed NNSA's chief scientist, "she was a minor character but she slowly grew into the job," a job this person describes as akin to "herding cats. She got good at herding cats." It's a talent she'll find useful now, the manager says.

All sources contacted mention the extraordinary effort McCarthy is exerting to make ORD a functioning reality. What they fault her for--if fault is the correct word--is her relative lack of experience in program execution--in putting together and running a major program.

As her résumé reveals, McCarthy has managed ORD for much less than a year. "That does not mean she can't do it," says one source familiar with DOE's national labs and with McCarthy, "but it means she has to be flexible and willing to accept advice."

It's too early to gauge her flexibility or her ability to gather people around her who can fill in the gaps in her operational knowledge. Amid disorganization, turf battles, poor communication, too few staff, and inconstant support from the White House, McCarthy's office--like all of DHS--is simply overburdened with the consolidation of so many agencies that were once scattered across the federal landscape.

"No organization has integrated three cultures at once and succeeded," notes Martin A. Apple, president of the Council of Scientific Society Presidents. "DHS's daunting challenge is to attempt to merge 22 different cultures with incompatible computer systems, hardly any scientists, and an inadequate intelligence-gathering system."

Simply stated, ORD is grappling with the problem of having too few people and, paradoxically, too much money to spend in too short a period of time. "I can tell you our office is overwhelmed," McCarthy tells C&EN. "We are grossly understaffed and struggling with that."

AS PAST WARS have done, the war on terrorism has sparked the creation of two new science entities within DHS--ORD and its private-sector counterpart, the Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency (HSARPA). These are the first two science agencies to be established since DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) was formed 45 years ago.

Perhaps even more than DARPA, both DHS research arms are faced with the challenge of determining the proper balance of applied to basic research. Over the long haul, they will have to develop breakthrough technologies. But for the immediate future, they will have to seek out, adapt, and then deploy existing technologies for homeland security. As one McCarthy aide says, they "will be positioned primarily on the applied end of the scale [unless it is determined that the] fundamentals of an R&D solution must be addressed first."

To succeed, McCarthy above all has to be given enough authority to command the respect of and cooperation from other parts of the government, especially the national labs. Her past record proves she can be tough when she has to be, but DHS and ORD were fashioned in such a way as to discourage collegiality.

As one source familiar with the national labs tells C&EN, "Pulling bits and pieces of organizations and pots of money from various federal agencies--and not doing it in a collaborative way--doesn't bode well for building collaborative teams within DHS to optimize homeland security."

Building new cooperative arrangements across the federal government will also be difficult and time consuming. It will probably take years for ORD to become fully operational, Kei Koizumi, director of AAAS's R&D Budget & Policy Program, told a Defense Week conference recently.

McCarthy herself is fond of emphasizing the de novo creation of DHS's Science & Technology Directorate. "Of the 22 agencies and 180,000 people that came to the department, none, with a few exceptions, came to S&T," she says.

The few programs that did come were mostly inherited by McCarthy from DOE. Those transferred DOE programs include chemical and biological security R&D, nuclear smuggling and proliferation detection, nuclear assessment and materials protection, biological and environmental research related to microbial pathogens, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's advanced scientific computing research program, and the Environmental Measurements Lab in New York City.

From DOD, ORD got the newly created but not then funded National Bioweapons Defense Analysis Center, now to be located at Fort Detrick, in Frederick, Md., and renamed the National Biodefense Analysis & Countermeasures Center. NBACC incorporates USDA's Long Island, N.Y., Plum Island Animal Disease Center, which transferred to ORD.

The Environmental Measurements Lab, Plum Island, and NBACC are now considered DHS labs. NBACC--which will also develop countermeasures to chemical agents--is essentially the campus for what McCarthy calls her national biodefense program, which makes up nearly half of her portfolio. McCarthy, however, assumes "ownership" of DOE's national labs.

"I have programmatic responsibility" for homeland security research at the national labs, she explains. Instead of the prevailing "work for others" agreements the national labs now have with other federal agencies, ORD and DOE will share joint sponsorship of homeland security research conducted at DOE's contractor-operated national labs. This means ORD will have the same access to the national labs as DOE has and can bring work directly into the national labs.

"McCarthy holds all the cards," a manager at a national lab says. "The homeland security directors at DOE's national labs will do whatever is asked of them."

As McCarthy explains: "The programs, plans, and budgets part of S&T defines the needs, identifies the gaps, and prioritizes the programs. Then, I take the description of what needs to be done and why, and I turn it into how and who--the execution plans. And that is the work that gets done at the national labs."

COORDINATION BETWEEN the labs' homeland security directors and ORD is through McCarthy's Office of National Laboratories, headed by Michael J. Burns. Initially the three nuclear weapons labs--Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos, and Sandia--tried to corral all ORD chemical and biological countermeasures research, pushing aside six other national labs in the process.

But at a July meeting with the national labs, McCarthy, through Burns, got her way. She insisted that nine labs--the three weapons labs plus Pacific Northwest, Argonne, Oak Ridge, Brookhaven, Idaho National Engineering & Environmental Lab, and DOE's Nevada Test Site--were to participate in agreements with ORD/ DHS for countermeasures research. This was one of the first steps on a long road to putting together a networked laboratory system dedicated to supporting the missions of DHS. But getting to the point of taking that step delayed the process considerably.

The national lab manager views the outcome as a particularly astute political maneuver on McCarthy's part. "It's politically important to have as many constituents as possible," this manager explains. And, with nine labs, more congressmen and senators will, for their constituents' sake, take a personal interest in ORD.

Besides the national labs, McCarthy says ORD "already works very closely with other major R&D organizations across the government." In addition to the already listed DOD, HHS, and USDA, those other organizations include the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Standards & Technology.

The nature of ORD's partnership with these agencies depends, of course, on the agency involved. "In some places and in some cases, it is a very discipline-centered" collaboration, McCarthy says. "Obviously, with HHS it's a partnership based on our respective programs in biodefense. With USDA, it's targeted on farm-animal diseases and agricultural security," she continues. With DOE, in addition to collaborating with the national labs, ORD also works "very closely with the Office of Science and NNSA," she says. And, she adds, the time is ripe "to actually forge new partnerships" to better leverage ORD monies.

Many of her headquarters staff of fewer than 20 are on detail from these partnering institutions. If they want a piece of the pie, explains the national lab manager, there's a strong incentive among the agencies to have their people on the inside.

Even when fully staffed, ORD will be a lean operation--"somewhere on the order of about 40 people serving in a headquarters function," McCarthy says. These functions are embodied in ORD's offices of national labs, DHS labs, university programs, testing and evaluations, and the biodefense programs at NBACC.

Although it may take McCarthy years--if it's even possible--to get her office fully operational, she is moving quickly on plans for setting up NBACC at Fort Detrick. McCarthy likes to apply a hub-and-spoke analogy when speaking of this center.

"Fort Detrick is the hub, and there are four physical entities that are part of that," McCarthy explains. One will conduct research in highly contained (BL-3 and BL-4) safety laboratories to better understand classical as well as new and emerging threats. Another will support an operational program in bioforensics, plans for which are being worked out among ORD, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and other organizations, she says. A third will be a "biodefense knowledge center" that will compare intelligence and open-source information with ORD's own laboratory experiments. And the fourth will be "a small testing and evaluation center," McCarthy says.

Plum Island, "which will do our agricultural and farm-animal disease work," McCarthy says, will be a spoke. Other spokes will include DHS labs, the national labs, other federal labs, and possibly the private sector and universities.

"We have a very impressive construction schedule proposed and are actually in the process of reviewing the architectural and engineering designs now," says McCarthy. Construction is slated for completion in 2006, and ORD is working with Congress on the costs associated with the project, an aide to McCarthy tells C&EN.

She's also moving rapidly in selecting ORD's first university-based center of excellence for economic-based risk assessment, which will be announced in November as mandated by Congress. This center--one university, perhaps partnered with other institutions--will not do basic research, McCarthy says. Rather, "it will develop and validate economic models for understanding the impacts of terrorism as well as the impacts of deploying countermeasures," she explains.

McCarthy's concept is to invest about $4 million, "seed money" she calls it, in an institution having expertise "in a particular cross-cutting area that is of importance to homeland security." That investment "is not meant to support a very expensive programmatic area," she explains.

What she hopes ORD's support will do--and here's where her idea for forging new partnerships and leveraging ORD money comes into play--is to "make the centers competitive for other grant programs that are available throughout the government." She cites HSARPA, NIST, or NIH as having the likely grant programs.

"We at DHS are not going to be investing in basic science," at least not immediately, McCarthy says. "Our objective is to leverage" the research that the granting institutions support by partnering with them "to bring to bear resources on applied and directed science that are directly related to homeland security missions."

LATE IN JULY, ORD put out a broad agency announcement seeking proposals for the risk assessment center. Seventy-one institutions responded, and their white-paper submissions are now undergoing external peer review, mostly by experts from academia. An additional mission-relevance review will be undertaken by experts from other federal agencies. In this case, a risk analyst from the Environmental Protection Agency will probably be part of the review panel.

McCarthy expects to issue other announcements for centers of excellence in agricultural security and in emergency preparedness. Her solicitations are handled administratively through the Oak Ridge Institute for Science & Education (

Her other university programs for investing in people are well under way. Two AAAS fellows for homeland security are now on staff at DHS. Microbiologist Dawn Myscofsky is a AAAS/DHS Fellow, and biologist Alan Pearson is a AAAS/Nuclear Threat Initiative Fellow who chose to work at DHS. NTI is a private, nonprofit organization founded by former senator Sam Nunn and media mogul Ted Turner.

In addition to the AAAS fellows, ORD has also awarded 101 homeland security scholarships and fellowships for the 2003–04 academic year. These recently named scholars are to acquire the skills needed to play a significant role in preventing or mitigating future terrorism in the U.S. Fully one-third of those named come from engineering disciplines, followed by computer science and math, psychology, and other social sciences. Funding for the program--about $2 million in fiscal 2003--is expected to increase as the program expands next year.

Although McCarthy primarily interacts with the federal establishment, she actively reaches out to the academic community, mainly through its professional organizations. She recently spoke at the American Chemical Society's national meeting, for example, and has worked with AAAS, the American Physical Society, and the Association of American Universities, among others.

"The academic community through the major professional organizations has been absolutely essential to us," McCarthy says. Those groups have been "helping us establish the peer reviews and set the standards to review the centers of excellence, and in helping us with the solicitation evaluations for the selection of fellowships," she says.

Not only have the professional organizations "been engaged extensively" in helping ORD with the selection of centers and fellows, they "are also providing us with forums to give those programs visibility," McCarthy says.

She declares her commitment to continue and even to increase her outreach to the academic community. And she tells C&EN that, as a lapsed ACS member, "I will go on the record to say I would happily fill out my membership form again, and I will tell you how to find me."


Engaging The Private Sector And Academia In Homeland Security

If you are a researcher in industry or academia and want to do business with the Department of Homeland Security, its Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency is your point of entry. Loosely modeled after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in its flexibility if not its reach, HSARPA aims to quickly deploy innovative technologies that can protect the nation against terrorism or natural disasters. Most of these systems and devices will likely be commercially available, off-the-shelf technologies.

Although DHS was largely created through the consolidation of existing federal agencies, that was not entirely so for the department's Science & Technology Directorate, of which HSARPA is a part. In fact, HSARPA is a creature of Congress, mandated by the Homeland Security Act that created the department.

HSARPA came into existence in January and currently has a staff of four. The first onboard, in July, was Deputy Director Jane Alexander, who was a top official at the Office of Naval Research and the Pentagon's DARPA. This month, David Bolka joined Alexander and two others as HSARPA's director. He--like DHS's undersecretary for science and technology, Charles E. McQueary--served in senior technical management positions at Lucent Technologies.

This small staff, with an operating budget of $1 billion, has to date funded about 100 projects culled from the several thousand proposals it has received. When fully staffed at more than 20 people, HSARPA expects to fund more than 1,000 projects a year. Its budget for fiscal 2004 is expected to be at least $350 million.

Unlike basic research projects that university investigators are most familiar with, HSARPA's projects, though competitive, are focused, peer reviewed, and expected to yield results in six to 24 months. Rather than focusing on breakthrough technologies without regard to specific applications--the DARPA model--HSARPA is interested in funding projects that will quickly yield technologies that meet specific requirements of the department's component agencies. This tack gives the advantage to industry, which is much more product-development-oriented than is academia.

Technologies developed must be fairly low in cost and yield no false positives if they are designed to detect chemical, biological, or nuclear agents. And to ensure compatibility, they must be adaptable to different infrastructures across state lines and within local government entities.

HSARPA seeks proposals from the private sector and the academic community for R&D and testing and evaluation projects by publishing broad agency announcements on, the Technical Support Working Group's website. TSWG was originally a partnership between the Pentagon and the State Department established "to deploy commercial off-the-shelf technologies in a rapid fashion for counterterrorism," Maureen I. McCarthy tells C&EN. McCarthy is acting director of DHS's Office of Research & Development, the HSARPA counterpart for awarding projects to federal laboratories.

TSWG became involved with HSARPA because when Congress created DHS it neglected to insert language in the law transferring financial managers to the new department. Without these managers, no grants or contracts could be funded, so TSWG stepped in. According to McCarthy, TSWG expanded its responsibilities to help HSARPA rapidly field systems and devices for homeland security.

HSARPA--like McCarthy's Office of Research & Development--doesn't decide which priorities to fund. Rather, it executes the directives of seven portfolio managers in DHS's Office of Programs, Plans & Budgets, which is headed by Penrose (Parney) C. Albright. Albright was the director for science and technology in the White House Office of Homeland Security--DHS's predecessor organization--and was tasked with organizing science and technology in the then-proposed department.

In May, HSARPA issued a broad agency announcement seeking proposals in such areas as explosives detection; infrastructure and personnel protection; physical security; standards development; and countermeasures against chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear agents.

At press time, HSARPA was expected to launch a website that will offer companies a platform for touting their homeland-security-related products and services to the agency. And, according to Alexander who recently spoke at a Defense Week-sponsored conference, her agency expects to fund grants for early-stage research at small technology firms. These Small Business Innovation Research grants are to be awarded in two stages, with phase one awards capped at $100,000 over six months, and phase two awards topped off at $750,000 over two years.


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Homeland Security Department To Become A Major R&D Supporter

Engaging The Private Sector And Academia In Homeland Security

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