Is Homeland Security Science Going to the Dogs?

David is a Deputy News Editor specializing in coverage of science policy, energy and the environment.

A 2013 spending bill for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) approved this week by a Senate panel includes good news for the agency's science and technology programs. It also tosses a bit of kibble to dog researchers.

Overall, the $45.2 billion bill (S. 3216) approved on 22 May by the Senate's Committee on Appropriations would cut DHS's total budget of $46.2 billion by about $1 billion over 2012 levels in the fiscal year that begins 1 October. At the same time, it would give a $212 million boost to the department's core research programs, boosting their budget to $478 million. That increase reverses deep cuts that Congress made last year and matches the White House's request made earlier this year. It is also more generous than the $406 million approved earlier this month by a House of Representatives spending panel.

The Senate included no funds for DHS's proposed National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) in Manhattan, Kansas, which is expected to cost more than $1 billion. Two government advisory bodies are studying the need, cost, and safety plans for the controversial laboratory, which would carry out research on dangerous livestock pathogens. In contrast, House appropriators gave NBAF $75 million. The president's budget also withholds any funding.

The Senate committee did encourage DHS to do more research involving one domesticated animal: the bomb-sniffing dog. "The Committee recognizes the critical benefit canines trained to detect explosives provide to homeland security," it wrote in a report accompanying the spending bill. And it encouraged the agency to "support research that studies the olfactory system, genetic markers, and behavior traits of detection canines in order to increase the capabilities and quality of these canines available to the government." It also urged DHS to consider developing "standards, protocols and certifications for the breeding, training, and deployment of explosives-detection canines." The bill contains no additional funding for such research, however.

Senate lawmakers would also like to see DHS consider a grant program aimed at increasing the amount of extramural research funding going to universities in states whose scientists typically fare poorly in the competition for federal science dollars. It directs the department to "evaluate" whether a program modeled on the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) "would be of value to DHS." The National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, NASA, and other agencies already have EPSCoR-type programs serving roughly two dozen largely rural states. Overall, the bill calls for spending $40 million on university-based research, a figure that matches the White House's request.

Further action on the House and Senate DHS bills won't come until later this year, and final numbers may not be settled until after the presidential and congressional elections in November.

Posted in Funding, Policy Budget_2013, DHS