The Advanced Spectroscopic Portal Program: Background and Issues for Congress
The Advanced Spectroscopic Portal Program:
Background and Issues for Congress
November 17, 2008
Dana A. Shea, Daniel Morgan, and John D. Moteff
Resources, Science, and Industry Division
The Advanced Spectroscopic Portal Program:
Background and Issues for Congress
The Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO) of the Department of
Homeland Security (DHS) is charged with developing and procuring equipment to
prevent a terrorist nuclear or radiological attack in the United States. At the forefront
of DNDO’s efforts are technologies currently deployed and under development
whose purpose is to detect smuggled nuclear and radiological materials. These
technologies include existing radiation portal monitors and next-generation
replacements known as advanced spectroscopic portals (ASPs).
Radiation portal monitors are used to detect radiation being emitted by
conveyances, such as trucks, that are entering the United States. Combined with
additional equipment to identify the source of the emitted radiation, they provide for
a detection and identification capability to detect smuggled nuclear and radiological
materials. The ASPs currently under testing integrate these detection and
identification steps into a single process. By doing so, DHS aims to reduce the
impact of such radiation screening on commerce while increasing its ability to detect
illicit nuclear material.
The speed of ASP development and deployment, the readiness of ASP
technology, and the potential benefits of the ASP program relative to its cost have all
been topics of extensive congressional interest. Congress has held oversight hearings
regarding the ASP program. Additionally, since FY2007, Congress has each year
required that the Secretary of Homeland Security certify that ASPs will result in a
“significant increase in operational effectiveness” before DHS can obligate
appropriated funds for full-scale ASP procurement. Secretarial certification is still
Testing of the ASPs in the laboratory and in the field, a cost-benefit analysis,
and other activities are underway to inform the Secretary’s certification decision.
Among the issues Congress faces are whether to further define the expected
performance of the ASP systems through additional legislation; how to assess
whether the ASP systems are technologically ready to be deployed; how to weigh the
potential economic and security benefits of ASP deployment versus the increased
financial cost; and whether that certification process developed by DHS to establish
a “significant increase in operational effectiveness” is well founded.
In troduction ......................................................1
History and Background............................................1
Issues for Congress................................................5
Capability to Detect and Identify Threats...........................5
Costs and Benefits.............................................6
Criteria for Secretarial Certification...............................7
Amount of Improvement....................................7
Verification of Performance..................................8
Performance Aspects Addressed..............................8
Actions That Would Follow Secretarial Certification..................9
Options for Congress..............................................10
The Advanced Spectroscopic Portal
Program: Background and Issues for
The attacks of September 11, 2001, prompted an increased federal focus on
protecting the United States against terrorist nuclear or radiological attack. Since that
time, the federal government has expanded existing programs, developed new
programs, and deployed new equipment at U.S. borders and elsewhere. The global
nuclear detection architecture has multiple facets, including security to make
acquiring threat material more difficult, intelligence activities, law enforcement
activities, and deployment of radiation detection equipment.1 New technologies have
been proposed to replace or augment existing radiation detection equipment and
enhance its effectiveness. Primary among these new systems is an improved type of
radiation detection device known as the Advanced Spectroscopic Portal (ASP). This
report provides an overview of the ASP program’s history and outlines issues for
Congress as the program moves forward.
History and Background
The ASP program is an effort by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
to develop, procure, and deploy a successor to the existing radiation detection portals.
Radiation detection portals, also known as radiation portal monitors, are to detect the
emission of radiation from objects that pass by them. The current portals are
generally deployed at the U.S. land and sea borders by DHS’s Domestic Nuclear
Detection Office (DNDO) and operated by DHS’s Customs and Border Protection
When entering the United States, cargo conveyances, such as trucks, are to pass
through a radiation detection portal. This process is called primary screening. If
radiation is present, the CBP officer is to be alerted. The conveyance is to be directed
to a second radiation detection portal, which would confirm the presence of radiation,
and where additional equipment can be used to identify the origin of the radiation and
determine if it comes from a potential threat. This process is called secondary
screening. Consequently, the current approach to radiation detection at the border is
based on a two-step process using different types of equipment.
1 For more information, see CRS Report RL34574, The Global Nuclear Detection
Architecture: Issues for Congress, by Dana A. Shea.
The ASP, in contrast, is designed to both detect radiation and identify its source.
More effective detection could increase the likelihood of preventing a nuclear threat
from entering the United States. More effective source identification could reduce
the costs and delays associated with “nuisance alarms” from innocuous radiation
sources, such as cat litter or ceramic tiles.
The ASP program was begun in 2004 by the DHS Directorate of Science and
Technology, which funded initial research and development through two broad
agency announcements (BAAs).2 When DNDO was established in April 2005,3
responsibility for the ASP program was transferred to DNDO. In 2005, under DNDO
auspices, ASP advanced technology prototypes were tested at the Nevada Test Site.
Subsequent to this testing, DNDO issued a request for proposals regarding
procurement of ASP systems.4
In March 2006, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) expressed
concerns that “in tests performed during 2005, the detection capabilities of the
advanced technology prototypes demonstrated mixed results — in some cases they
worked better, but in other cases, they worked about the same as already deployed
systems.”5 The GAO recommended that the Secretary of Homeland Security work
with the Director of DNDO to prepare a cost-benefit analysis for the deployment of
In May 2006, DNDO reported on a cost-benefit analysis that it said supported
the proposed ASP procurement. In July 2006, it awarded contracts to three
companies — Raytheon Company, Thermo Electron Corporation (now known as
Thermo Fisher Scientific), and Canberra Industries — to further develop and
manufacture ASP systems. The Raytheon and Thermo systems used detectors made
of medium-resolution sodium iodide (NaI); the Canberra system used high-resolution
high-purity germanium (HPGe). The DHS stated that it planned to procure and
deploy 80 systems quickly and ultimately to deploy a total of about 1,400 at land and
sea ports of entry.6
2 Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects
Agency, Detection Systems for Radiological and Nuclear Countermeasure, Proposer
Information Pamphlet, Broad Agency Announcement BAA-04-02, January 30, 2004; and
Detection Systems for Radiological and Nuclear Countermeasure, Proposer Information
Pamphlet, Broad Agency Announcement BAA-05-04, December 2, 2004.
3 The DNDO was first established by presidential directive: Executive Office of the
President, The White House, “Domestic Nuclear Detection,” National Security Presidential
Directive NSPD-43/Homeland Security Presidential Directive HSPD-14, April 15, 2005.
Statutory authority was subsequently provided in the SAFE Port Act (P.L. 109-347, Section
4 Department of Homeland Security, Domestic Nuclear Detection Office, “Advanced
Spectroscopic Program,” Request for Proposal, HSHQDC-05-R-00009, October 17, 2005.
5 Government Accountability Office, Combating Nuclear Smuggling: DHS Has Made
Progress Deploying Radiation Detection Equipment at U.S. Ports-of-Entry, but Concerns
Remain, GAO-06-389, March 2006.
6 Remarks by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and DNDO Director Vayl
In October 2006, GAO reported that the DNDO cost-benefit analysis did “not
provide a sound analytical basis for DNDO’s decision to purchase and deploy new
portal monitor technology.”7 The GAO’s concerns involved both the cost of ASPs
and their performance relative to existing radiation detection systems.
In the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2007 (P.L. 109-
295, signed into law October 4, 2006), Congress prohibited DHS from obligating
FY2007 funds for full-scale procurement of ASPs “until the Secretary of Homeland
Security has certified ... that a significant increase in operational effectiveness will
be achieved.” The act did not define or explain the phrase “significant increase in
Faced with criticism of its test results and cost-benefit analysis, DNDO engaged
in a further round of ASP testing in 2007. These tests were to generate the data
needed to support secretarial certification and to provide additional information
regarding the capabilities of the ASP systems.8 The GAO reviewed the 2007 ASP
tests and criticized them as being methodologically flawed.9 The GAO’s criticisms
included the use of the same radiation sources and shielding material for both
calibration and performance testing and the inclusion of test results that might not
have statistical significance. In September 2008, GAO issued another report critical
of DNDO’s ongoing ASP testing.10 It found that further testing by DNDO
“provide[d] little information about the actual performance capabilities of the ASPs,”
and that the resulting test report should not be used in determining whether ASPs are
a significant improvement over currently deployed equipment.
The DNDO strongly disputed these criticisms. In response to GAO’s initial
critique, DHS convened an Independent Review Team to address the criticisms and
determine their validity. This purpose of this review was described as “to assist the
Secretary in determining whether he should certify that there will be a significant
increase in operational effectiveness with the procurement of the ASP system.”11 The
Oxford at a Press Conference to Announce Spectroscopic Portal (ASP) Program Contracts,
July 16, 2006, online at [http://www.dhs.gov/xnews/releases/press_release_0953.shtm].
7 Government Accountability Office, 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, October 17, 2006.
8 Testimony of Vayl S. Oxford, Director, Domestic Nuclear Detection Office, before the
House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Subcommittee on Oversight and
Investigations, September 18, 2007.
9 Government Accountability Office, Additional Actions Needed to Ensure Adequate Testing
of Next Generation Radiation Detection Equipment, GAO-07-1247T, September 18, 2007.
10 Government Accountability Office, Combating Nuclear Smuggling: DHS’s Phase 3 Test
Report on Advanced Spectroscopic Portal Monitors Does Not Fully Disclose the Limitations
of the Test Results, GAO-08-979, September 2008.
11 Testimony of Paul A. Schneider, Under Secretary for Management, Department of
Independent Review Team found no bias in the test results, but it concluded that
some aspects of the testing process were “not ideal.”12 The Independent Review
Team also concluded that the test results and measures of effectiveness were not
properly linked to operational outcomes, the testing up to that point was properly
characterized as developmental, and no independent operational testing and
evaluation had been conducted.13 Following the Independent Review Team review,
DNDO undertook another round of ASP testing.
In the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2008 (P.L. 110-161, signed into law
December 26, 2007), Congress prohibited the obligation of FY2008 funds for full-
scale ASP procurement until the Secretary of Homeland Security certified a
“significant increase in operational effectiveness” — the same language as in the
FY2007 act. This time, the act also directed the Secretary to consult with the
National Academy of Sciences before issuing the certification and to submit separate
certifications for ASP’s use in primary and secondary screening.14 (If primary
screening detects a potential threat, secondary screening is undertaken to confirm the
detection and identify the source.) The Consolidated Security, Disaster Assistance,
and Continuing Appropriations Act, 2009 (P.L. 110-329, signed into law September
30, 2008), continued the requirement for secretarial certification before obligation of
FY2009 funds. Again, the phrase “significant increase in operational effectiveness”
was not defined or explained in either act.
The DNDO continues to engage in additional testing and evaluation, which it
expects will lead to a secretarial decision regarding certification in November 2008,
but DNDO officials have stated that they will move forward with the certification
decision only when the available test results and other information are sufficient to
support it. If the Secretary of Homeland Security certifies that a “significant
improvement in operational effectiveness” has been achieved, DNDO will be able
to obligate the FY2007, FY2008, and FY2009 funds already appropriated for ASP
procurement, if they have not been reprogrammed for another purpose. Following
secretarial certification, DNDO may choose to immediately begin acquisition and
deployment of ASPs at ports of entry, conduct further ASP system testing first, or
take some other course. The most recent ASP Project Execution Plan, which
Homeland Security, before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Subcommittee
on Oversight and Investigations, September 18, 2007.
12 Testimony of George E. Thompson, Deputy Director, Homeland Security Institute, before
the House Committee on Homeland Security, Subcommittee on Emerging Threats,
Cybersecurity, Science and Technology, March 5, 2008.
13 Testimony of Vayl S. Oxford, Director, Domestic Nuclear Detection Office, before the
House Committee on Homeland Security, Subcommittee on Emerging Threats,
Cybersecurity, and Science and Technology, March 5, 2008.
14 The National Academies are currently engaged in a project evaluating testing, costs, and
benefits of the ASP systems, but they have not yet issued a final report. For more
information, see online at [http://www8.nationalacademies.org/cp/
proj ectvi ew.aspx?ke y= 48932].
describes the number of ASPs to be procured and how they would be deployed,
reportedly no longer reflects DNDO’s current plans.15
Issues for Congress
Through hearings, letters, legislation, and report language, some Members of
Congress have expressed concern about the ASP program and support for it. These
actions raise issues in several areas: the effectiveness of ASP technology at detecting
and identifying threats, the ASP program’s costs relative to its benefits, the
Secretary’s criteria for determining whether ASPs will provide a “significant increase
in operational effectiveness,” and future actions following secretarial certification.
Capability to Detect and Identify Threats
The effectiveness of ASP technology hinges on its ability to both detect
radiation and identify its source. These tasks are currently performed sequentially,
using two different types of equipment. The ASP technology would integrate these
tasks into a single step. A key question for Congress is whether ASPs would perform
sufficiently better than the existing systems to make investment in them worthwhile.
Since the ASP technology is intended to perform both detection and identification,
this question can be asked with respect to both functions.
The DNDO’s ongoing testing is intended to provide the remaining information
needed to compare ASP performance with the performance of existing systems.
Because of the criticism of past ASP test campaigns by GAO and others, Congress
directed DHS to have the National Academies examine the methodology and results
of the ASP test campaigns and evaluate how DNDO uses those results to assess ASP
performance. Congress may wish to consider the sufficiency of DHS’s plans for
further ASP development, procurement, and deployment in light of the National
Some nongovernmental critics believe that even if ASPs are better than existing
radiation portal monitors at detecting and identifying radioactive material, they
cannot provide a sufficient defense. These critics state that nuclear material can be
shielded or divided into amounts too small to be detected and that detection
equipment can be avoided by illegally entering the United States away from official
ports of entry.16 These arguments challenge the belief that better detection systems
are an effective way to protect against the threat of nuclear and radiological terrorism.
15 Government Accountability Office, Combating Nuclear Smuggling: DHS’s Program to
Procure and Deploy Advanced Radiation Detection Portal Monitors Is Likely to Exceed the
Department’s Previous Cost Estimates, GAO-08-1108R, September 22, 2008.
16 See, for example, Thomas B. Cochran and Matthew G. McKinzie, “Detecting Nuclear
Smuggling,” Scientific American, April 2008.
Costs and Benefits
In 2006, DNDO conducted a cost-benefit analysis for the development and
deployment of ASP systems. Additional DNDO cost-benefit analyses are to be used
as input to the Secretary’s certification decision. It appears that the analyses
conducted so far have focused mainly on the economic costs of implementation and
the economic benefits to commerce of making the radiation screening process more
The expected economic cost of procuring and deploying ASP systems has
changed since the inception of the program, as have the number, type, and purpose
of the systems themselves. Rather than an all-inclusive suite of ASP varieties,
DNDO has chosen to focus on a single type of ASP used to screen cargo
conveyances. According to analysis by GAO, the cost of the ASP program has
increased from the original $1.2 billion to approximately $3.1 billion for the
previously planned full deployment or approximately $2.1 billion for the currently
planned reduced deployment. The DNDO asserts that the actual number of deployed
systems may change dramatically depending on the results of ongoing testing.17
The DNDO asserts that the number of nuisance alarms, in which radiation is
detected correctly but turns out to come from an innocuous source, would be greatly
reduced following deployment of the ASP systems. This reduction would result from
the ASP’s ability to identify the source of the radiation it detects and discriminate
between dangerous and innocuous sources. Because of this expected reduction, the
number of conveyances that would be required to go through subsequent, more in-
depth screening would be reduced, and as a result, the radiation screening process
would have less impact on commerce. The DNDO stated in 2006, based on its cost-
benefit analysis at that time, that the value of the reduced impact on commerce
outweighed the cost of the ASP program and caused deployment of the ASP systems
to be a preferred outcome.
It appears that DNDO’s cost-benefit analyses have not attempted to quantify the
security benefit of making radiation screening more effective: the avoided cost of a
nuclear or radiological attack in the United States that a more effective system might
prevent. The omission of this avoided cost from a cost-benefit analysis might be
justified in several ways. One might be that the likelihood of an avoided successful
attack is the same between existing radiation portal systems and the ASP systems.
Another might be that it is too difficult to determine quantitatively the benefit from
an incremental increase in detection effectiveness. Because the potential
consequences of a nuclear or radiological attack would vary widely depending on the
location of the attack, and the likelihood and timing of an attack occurring would
depend on a terrorist adversary having the requisite intent and capability, calculating
the benefits of an avoided attack may have significant uncertainties. Absent such an
analysis, however, it is difficult to assess whether a small increase in detector
effectiveness would lead to a substantial reduction of the overall security risk.
17 Government Accountability Office, Combating Nuclear Smuggling: DHS’s Program to
Procure and Deploy Advanced Radiation Detection Portal Monitors Is Likely to Exceed the
Department’s Previous Cost Estimates, GAO-08-1108R, September 22, 2008.
The increased cost of the ASP program and related changes in procurement and
deployment plans have led to uncertainty regarding the total costs and benefits of the
program. Congress is likely to continue to be interested in the scope of the ASP
program, its total cost, how ASP systems would be deployed, the calculated benefits
of that potential deployment, and the degree to which this next-generation technology
increases homeland security. Additionally, Congress may be particularly interested
in the degree to which potential deployment of ASP systems reduces the likelihood
of a successful attack and how such considerations are weighed and balanced against
other economic factors.
Criteria for Secretarial Certification
The appropriations acts that established the certification requirement provided
no definition or explanation of the phrase “significant increase in operational
effectiveness.” Absent further congressional guidance, DHS has established a
definition based on a list of criteria and published it as a memorandum for the record.
The GAO and others have criticized these criteria. Congress may be interested in
examining whether the criteria meet the certification requirement’s intent. On the
other hand, considering that Congress has provided no explanation of the requirement
in statute or report language, it may have intended to leave the definition to DHS’s
In the DHS memorandum for the record in July 2008, DHS agencies, including
DNDO and CBP, jointly established certification criteria that constitute their
definition of “significant increase in operational effectiveness.” The memorandum
is unclassified and less than two pages long. It is possible that additional details
supporting the certification criteria are provided elsewhere, but the memorandum
gives no indication that this is the case.
Amount of Improvement. Several of the criteria require an improvement in
some aspect of performance without specifying a minimum amount of improvement.
For the criteria that do specify a minimum amount of improvement, DHS does not
explain how it determined that amount. For those with no specified minimum, an
improvement so small as to be operationally insignificant would apparently be
sufficient. The GAO criticized this approach, which it said
set a low bar for improvement — for example, by requiring ASPs to perform at
least as well as current generation equipment when nuclear material is present18
in cargo but not specifying an actual improvement.
On the other hand, if the performance of existing systems is already sufficient in
certain respects, it may be appropriate simply to preclude backsliding in those areas
while seeking to make larger improvements in other areas where current performance
is less acceptable. For example, DNDO states that for some threat types, current
systems are already expected to detect correctly 100% of the time, so that further
18 Government Accountability Office, Combating Nuclear Smuggling: DHS Needs to
Consider the Full Costs and Complete All Tests Prior to Making a Decision on Whether to
Purchase Advanced Portal Monitors, GAO-08-1178T, September 25, 2008.
improvement would be impossible.19 Providing fewer quantitative targets might also
allow the criteria to be reused for future decisions about further equipment upgrades.
Verification of Performance. The memorandum establishing the criteria
does not define under what test conditions or with which test data the criteria are to
be verified. For example, it does not specify the types, amounts, or configurations
of threat material that are to be detected. Other documents may provide these details,
or DNDO may have specific plans that it has not documented formally. In some
cases, DNDO officials have stated how particular criteria will be assessed. For
example, previously scheduled field validation tests that involve the screening of
trucks in actual commerce are to be used to assess the time required for secondary
screening, and the results of a specific test campaign at the Nevada Test Site are to20
be used to assess the ASP’s ability to detect special nuclear material.
Performance Aspects Addressed. The criteria address certain aspects of
performance, such as detection rates and false alarm rates, but do not expressly
address others, such as reliability, ease of use, and cost. For example, the criteria
compare ASP performance versus the performance of current systems on a one-to-
one basis, without regard to cost, even though ASPs are more expensive than current
systems. As the technology developer, DNDO, and the technology user, CBP, jointly
established these criteria, these choices presumably reflect DHS’s conclusions about
which aspects of performance are most important. Nevertheless, some experts have
expressed concern about the criteria’s balance, asserting that the criteria should focus
more on increasing the likelihood of detecting a genuine threat, rather than on
reducing the false alarm rate.21
Procedural Changes. The memorandum establishing the criteria states that
performance comparisons against currently deployed systems are to be made on the
basis of current concepts of operations (CONOPs) and standard operating procedures
(SOPs). The ASP systems are to combine radiation detection (the goal of primary
screening) with identification of the radiation source (the goal of secondary
screening). One might expect that either adding an identification capability to the
detection stage or adding a detection capability to the identification stage would be
accompanied by changes in CONOPs and SOPs, but no such changes are reflected
in the criteria. If changes in CONOPs and SOPs could improve the performance of
the ASPs in the field, then assessing performance using test data may not reflect their
Detection Threshold. Finally, the criteria compare ASP performance against
the performance of current systems set at current operational detection thresholds.
They do not compare performance against the same equipment set at other thresholds
that might have different operational ramifications, such as higher detection and false
19 DNDO, personal communication with CRS, October 9, 2008.
20 DNDO, personal communication with CRS, October 9, 2008.
21 Testimony of Thomas B. Cochran, Ph.D., Senior Scientist, Nuclear Program, Natural
Resources Defense Council, before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and
Governmental Affairs, September 25, 2008.
positive rates. The DHS has considered such scenarios in some past analyses but
does not require such consideration in the context of the certification criteria.
Actions That Would Follow Secretarial Certification
The date for secretarial certification has been postponed several times. The
current reported date is November 2008, but DNDO officials have stated that they
will move forward with the certification decision only when the available test results
and other information are sufficient to support it. At the same time as the secretarial
certification, DHS would determine whether to proceed with full-scale production
of the ASP systems.
If the certification decision is postponed further, little time would remain for it
to occur before the end of the Bush Administration. This possibility may create
pressure on the Secretary to make the decision before the end of the Administration,
especially if he fears that valuable time and experience could be lost during the
presidential transition. Alternatively, the Secretary might choose to postpone the
certification decision to give the next Administration flexibility if it has different
views on the utility or appropriateness of the ASP technology.
If the current Secretary of Homeland Security or his successor decides to make
the required certification, several choices would remain about how to proceed. The
Secretary may decide that ASP systems should be fully deployed. The DHS could
use whatever funds remain from prior-year appropriations for ASP procurement to
begin this process and would likely request additional funds in future fiscal years to
continue and complete the process.22
The Secretary may decide that while ASP systems do represent a “significant
improvement in operational effectiveness,” their costs make them less desirable than
other possible detection improvements. For example, rather than procure ASP
systems, DHS might invest in additional existing secondary inspection systems,
while achieving comparable reductions in secondary screening time. The DHS has
stated that cost-benefit analyses will inform the Secretary’s certification decision,
even though the criteria do not mention cost.
The Secretary may decide to acquire and deploy ASP systems on a limited basis.
For example, ASP systems might be deployed at high-throughput locations only. It
is possible that the benefits of ASPs outweigh their cost in some locations but not
others. While preferring to procure ASP systems in large numbers for system
performance uniformity and economies of scale, DNDO has stated that it will present
various deployment strategies to the Secretary.23
22 The DNDO received approximately $107 million in FY2007 and $90 million in FY2008
for the radiation portal monitor program, which includes the ASP program (Domestic
Nuclear Detection Office, Department of Homeland Security, Fiscal Year 2009
Congressional Justification, p. DNDO ACQ-13). P.L. 110-329 provided $120 million for
the radiation portal monitor program for FY2009.
23 Testimony of Vayl S. Oxford, Director, Domestic Nuclear Detection Office, before the
Upon secretarial certification, Congress may be interested in the manner and
scale of ASP procurement, where and how initial ASP systems would be deployed,
and the projected future deployment of these systems. The existing radiation portal
monitor program has been a multiyear program with continued phased deployment.
Consequently, the required time to replace these systems may be of congressional
interest. Finally, if the existing radiation portals are superseded by ASP systems,
Congress may be interested in the expected lifetime of those ASP systems and DHS’s
expectation of the development of a next-generation system to replace those ASP
Options for Congress
Congress has several options for addressing the ASP program. Those options
include providing legislative guidance to DHS regarding certification of the ASP
systems and awaiting the Secretary’s decisions regarding certification and
A key question of possible congressional interest might be whether the approach
taken by DHS in determining a “significant increase in operational effectiveness”
meets congressional intent. The definition developed by DHS for a “significant
increase in operational effectiveness” may meet congressional intent, and Congress
may be fully supportive of DNDO moving forward with ASP procurement and
deployment. Alternatively, Congress might choose to restrict the Secretary’s
discretion by defining a “significant increase in operational effectiveness” for DHS
or by delineating what areas need to be addressed by DHS when it defines a
“significant increase in operational effectiveness.” Congress could even prohibit
further action on the ASP program if it disagreed with the Secretary’s judgment
The Next Generation Radiation Screening Act of 2008 (H.R. 5531) takes this
approach. H.R. 5531 would direct DHS to develop quantitative metrics to use as
certification criteria for the ASP program. These metrics would be required to
include a quantitative definition of “significant increase in operational effectiveness,”
a specification of all relevant threat materials and all relevant masking scenarios, and
a cost/benefit analysis under specified guidelines. The bill would also allow the
Secretary of Homeland Security to consider relevant reports from outside groups,
such as GAO or an Independent Review Team, and any other information the
Secretary determined to be relevant. The House of Representatives passed H.R. 5531
on July 30, 2008, and the bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Homeland
Security and Governmental Affairs on July 31, 2008.
An alternative approach to providing legislative guidance would be for Congress
to set a deadline for secretarial certification. The DHS has not met previous
expectations for the date of certification. Instead, it has engaged in further
development and testing following criticisms of its test procedures and results.
Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, September 25, 2008.
Congress might pass legislation directing DHS make a determination regarding the
“significant increase in operational effectiveness” by a specified date rather than
continuing with more tests and developmental work.
Congress might also choose to continue to leave the criteria and schedule for
secretarial certification to DHS, focusing instead on oversight activities. Both the
Further scrutiny of DHS and oversight of the testing and certification process may
help to ensure that DHS’s decision to certify and procure the ASP system is well-
If secretarial certification occurs, but Congress determines the certification did
not meet its legislative intent, Congress might place additional restrictions or
requirements on the ASP program. Examples of such restrictions or requirements
might include limiting the rate of procurement of ASP systems, directing DHS to
reevaluate its decision-making process, or requiring analysis of the certification
decision by a third party. Congress could even rescind ASP procurement funding
appropriated in previous years.
Lastly, Congress might choose to change the direction of the program if
secretarial certification does not go forward as planned. Policymakers might choose
to direct DNDO to change its expectations of the ASP technology performance and
scope, so as to match the tested capabilities. Alternatively, policymakers might direct
DNDO to invest additional funds into further development for a fixed period of time,
to transfer the program focus away from procurement and towards development
milestones. Finally, policymakers might direct DNDO to enhance their development
of alternate technologies beyond those incorporated in the ASP systems, attempting
to achieve a breakthrough in technology development.