Don’t Call Us DARPA

Bolka is head of the Homeland Security
Advanced Research Projects Agency, or HSARPA, the external funding arm
of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). He finds comparisons to
the venerable Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) unfair.

HSARPA may be modeled after DARPA but its
function is quite different, Bolka points out. HSARPA awards
procurement contracts, grants, cooperative agreements and other
transactions for research or prototypes to public or private entities.
The program invests in initiatives that offer potentially revolutionary
changes in technologies that promote homeland security.

DARPA, by contrast, is the central research
and development organization for the Department of Defense (DoD). It
manages and directs selected basic and applied research and development
projects for that agency, pursuing high-risk, high-payoff research and
technology that might lead to military breakthroughs. Other DoD offices
take over when it comes to procurement, however.

It’s the end user who represents the most
significant difference between HSARPA and DARPA. While HSARPA and DARPA
share a common technological base, “when your users are different, it
means the technological system at the end is different,” HSARPA Deputy
Director Jane Alexander said in an interview. She added that DoD’s
catchphrase—“train as you fight, fight as you train”—does not apply to
recipients of HSARPA’s R&D grants. First responders like local
police departments, firefighters and emergency response teams can’t be
expected to train for months to become skilled users of a complicated
system the way DoD trains its service members. HSARPA’s challenge is to
make its technology easy to use and affordable for civilian users.

Only about 10 percent of HSARPA’s projects
are comparable to DARPA’s, and the budgets for the programs differ
immensely. DARPA’s budget for the current fiscal year is about $2.8
billion, and the proposed figure for 2005 is roughly $3 billion—whereas
HSARPA’s first full budget year, FY 2004, rang in at less than $1
billion.

According to Bolka, HSARPA is focusing 90
percent of its resources on the nation’s “immediate problems,” while
agency officials plan to direct 10 percent of HSARPA’s resources on
“forward-looking” research for the next half-decade.

DHS research and development is yet again the
fiscal darling of FY 2005 after an almost 50 percent increase over
FY2004. Under the president’s requested budget, the agency’s R&D
portfolio would increase 15.5 percent to $1.2 billion, shifting its
agency-wide emphasis from near-term technology development toward more
basic and applied research, according to the American Association for
the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Under the plan, HSARPA’s research portfolio would increase three-fold from $171 million to $431 million.

HSARPA has the mixed blessing of being
outside the designation of a budget line item, so its funding will
fluctuate as the year proceeds. According to AAAS, the latest estimate
is that the program will award $210 million to industry contractors,
research institutions and universities in 2004 spanning DHS’ mission
areas.

In autumn 2003, HSARPA conducted its first
solicitation of proposals for detection technologies for biological and
chemical countermeasures. That was followed, earlier this month, by a
solicitation for detection technologies for radiological and nuclear
countermeasures. A possible solicitation of proposals for low vapor
pressure chemicals detection is expected later this year.

Secretary Tom Ridge lobbed a vote of
confidence HSARPA’s way when he told the Senate Committee on
Governmental Affairs on Feb. 9 that the agency has “already engaged
hundreds of private companies and universities in developing new
cutting-edge technologies” in its brief existence. Last September, at
HSARPA’s inaugural bidder’s conference, Charles McQueary, DHS’
undersecretary for science and technology, told industry leaders that
HSARPA marked the launch of a “new and important mission in our efforts
to marshal the intellectual capital of engineering and scientific
communities and to develop fresh and effective approaches to safeguard
the American public.”

In 2005, the White House wants the Science
and Technology Directorate, which includes HSARPA, to receive an
R&D budget of $987 million. The total agency budget would be $40.2
billion, up 9.9 percent from the current fiscal year.

The twice-retired Bolka says his tenure at
HSARPA will be short-lived. He doesn’t plan to stick around for more
than a few years. HSARPA is the former Lucent Technologies executive’s
third startup venture. He left his most recent project—restoring a 17th
century house—to join DHS in September 2003. Dr. Jane Alexander joined
him as first HSARPA deputy director in May of 2003.

“I did keep my hammer. I thought it might be
useful in Washington,” he joked at HSARPA’s inaugural bidder’s
conference last September. “If your only tool is a hammer, every
problem looks like a nail.” HST

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The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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