Last Watch: A program meant to keep Americans safe from airborne threats came under congressional scrutiny in 2012 due to fears that the next generation of technology wouldn’t be able to produce useable results. Lawmakers questioned whether the BioWatch program, a network that collects airborne particles and conducts daily tests for pathogens, should move forward after two generations of tepid results, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The Department of Homeland Security pushed ahead with a $3.1 billion draft request for proposals for the next generation of BioWatch in February 2013, even while the House Energy and Commerce Committee struggled to view key documents related to the performance of existing generations.The committee was particularly concerned about information that indicated the program had produced false positives, according to the Times. BioWatch officials have repeatedly disputed claims of false positives.
Latest Vision: Plans for the third generation of the biosurveillance technology were scrapped last week, according to an April 25 Los Angeles Times article. The reason for the cancellation wasn’t clear in the article, which cites a memorandum “circulated” by BioWatch program manager Michael V. Walter. But the article includes a statement by U.S. Department of Homeland Security spokesman, S.Y. Lee, that the decision was in support of a "cost-effective acquisition without compromising our security."
Looking Ahead: A study by the U.S. Government Office of Accountability remains ongoing. The September 2012 study recommended that DHS reevaluate BioWatch mission needs and systematically determine alternatives before pursuing acquisition of third-generation technology. It also recommended updating the performance, cost, and schedule in relation to the suggested analysis. According to the latest GAO updates on March 14, no progress had been made on the second recommendation, but DHS had completed an analysis of alternatives. That analysis is currently under review. Updates will be posted to the report as available.