Nukes, Detectors and Questions

Sen. Charles Schumer has asked Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff to consider cancelling $1.2 billion worth of contracts with three companies for a new kind of radiation detection machine for use on the nation's borders.

Schumer made his requset in a letter last week, following a story in the Washington Post about the contracts and a much-delayed project to deploy of up to 1,400 of the machines. The story said that Chertoff had done an about face and said the machines needed more work after praising them as ready for the field for more than a year.

Deployment of the $377,000 machines -- known as advanced spectroscopic radiation portal monitors -- has been delayed several times by questions about whether homeland security officials have been forthcoming about their cost and effectiveness. The Bush administration has said that protecting against the import of radiological materials that could be used in a nuclear device or dirty bomb is a top security priority.

"In addition to pursuing improvements with existing contractors during the nexty year, I urge you to explore whether other companies may be well situated to deliver the needed capabilities," Schumer wrote in his Nov. 20 letter. "The advanced monitors are evidently not as ready for deployment as they were believed to be when these contracts were announced."

Though relatively little has been spent on the contracts so far, government investigators and lawmakers worry about the time that has been lost in disputes over the program and the effectiveness of the machines.

In other news, consider this sweeping piece the New York Times wrote about the role that bribery plays in contracting.

By Robert O'Harrow |  November 26, 2007; 3:15 PM ET security
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"...government investigators and lawmakers worry about the time that has been lost in disputes over the program and the effectiveness of the machines."

You think? Consider the following warning from Michael Scheuer, a 22-year veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), where for 6 years he was in charge of the search for Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. When asked by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty earlier this year if he expected more attacks on the United States or in the West on the scale of September 11, 2001, Scheuer's response was:

"Oh, I think greater than 9/11. I don't think it will happen in Europe, but I do think it will happen in the United States. Bin Laden has been very clear that each of Al-Qaeda's attacks on America will be greater than the last, and I think the only reason we haven't seen an attack so far is that he doesn't have that attack prepared. But when he does, he will use it. And try to get us out of the way, which of course is his main goal."

Posted by: | November 28, 2007 10:23 AM

Schumer is a moron. Did he not learn anything from the A-12 fiasco? When a government contract is terminated not based on independent judgment of the contracting officer, but because some high-up politico (in that case Dick Cheney) orders it, we end up squandering billions of tax dollars in contract claims and litigation. Doesn't Schumer realize that he's basically given the contractors' lawyers the best evidence they could ever hope for?

Posted by: Gasmonkey | November 28, 2007 3:11 PM

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