Combating Nuclear Smuggling: DHS's Cost-Benefit Analysis to Support the Purchase of New Radiation Detection Portal Monitors Was Not Based on Available Performance Data and Did Not Fully Evaluate All the Monitors' Costs and Benefits: GAO-07-133R

Aloise, Gene
October 2006
GAO Reports;10/17/2006, p1
Government Document
Since the attacks of September 11, 2001, combating terrorism has been one of the nation's highest priorities. As part of that effort, preventing nuclear and radioactive material from being smuggled into the United States--perhaps to be used by terrorists in a nuclear weapon or in a radiological dispersal device (a "dirty bomb")--has become a key national security objective. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is responsible for providing radiation detection capabilities at U.S. ports-of-entry. Until April 2005, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) under DHS managed this program. However, on April 15, 2005, the president directed the establishment, within DHS, of the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO), whose duties include acquiring and supporting the deployment of radiation detection equipment. CBP continues its traditional screening function at ports-of-entry to interdict dangerous nuclear and radiological materials through the use of radiation detection equipment, including portal monitors. The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), one of the Department of Energy's (DOE) national laboratories, manages the deployment of radiation portal monitors for DHS. Current portal monitors, which cost about $55,000 per monitor, detect the presence of radiation, but cannot distinguish between harmless radiological materials, such as naturally occurring radiological material in some ceramic tile, and dangerous nuclear materials, such as highly enriched uranium (HEU). CBP officers also use radioactive isotope identification devices (RIIDs), which are handheld devices designed to identity different types of radioactive material, such as radioactive material used in medicine or industry, a naturally occurring source of radiation, or weapons-grade material. These devices have limitations in their ability to detect and identify nuclear material. DHS would like to improve the capabilities of its radiation detection equipment in order to better distinguish between different types of nuclear and radiological materials. As a result, DHS sponsored research, development, and testing activities in 2005 that were designed to produce portal monitors that, in addition to detecting, would also identify the type of nuclear or radiological material. Portal monitors with this new identification technology currently cost about $377,000 or more per monitor. In these same tests, DHS also tested the performance of currently deployed portal monitors. In July 2006, DHS announced that it had awarded contracts to three vendors to further develop and purchase $1.2 billion worth of new portal monitors over 5 years. DHS plans to deploy these monitors at U.S. ports of entry. For fiscal year 2007, DNDO plans to acquire the first installment of 104 new portal monitors that use new identification technology at a cost of $80.2 million. Congress, however, has curtailed DNDO's ability to do so by restricting the availability of funding for full scale...


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