"Almost four years ago, they took their eye off the ball in what they were supposed to do, and that is complete the architecture with existing equipment," said Aloise. He believes that if the DNDO had developed the strategic plan, it wouldn't have spent four years trying to unsuccessfully develop ASPs.
Dana A. Shea, a specialist in science and technology policy at the Congressional Research Service, agreed, adding the lack of an overarching plan makes it extremely difficult for other agencies to coordinate with DNDO to create a common defense.
"Absent a strategic plan that lays out what the architecture's goals are and how to measure success towards those goals," he said, "it would be very difficult for an agency to be investing with that purpose in mind because they wouldn't have that information to bring into their budgeting process."
The failure has left vulnerabilities terrorists could exploit, the witnesses said.
"The threat of nuclear terrorist attack on the United States is growing faster than our ability to prevent a nuclear terrorist attack on our homeland," said Committee Chairman Joseph Lieberman (I-CT).
In previous reports, the GAO has criticized the cost and performance of ASPs. Individual machines cost almost three times as much as already deployed technology, which DHS reports is currently screening nearly 100 percent of cargo at U.S. land borders and seaports. The GAO says the DNDO has already spent $224 million on ASPs, which does not include the cost of testing the technology.
Asked if DNDO should quit the ASP program and focus on the strategic plan, Aloise said yes.
"Even if you deploy the ASP, it's going to be of marginal value, and what we need to do is close the gaps in the architecture first," he said.
Lieberman commented that the problems raised by the witnesses could be characterized as "an indictment" of past behavior by the DNDO and the federal government on a critical homeland security issue.
The second part of the hearing is scheduled to occur on July 21. A representative from DNDO is slated to appear.
♦ Photo of border patrol by jim.greenhill/U.S. Army/Flickr