Congressmen want DHS to speed up anti-terrorism technology program

One of the Homeland Security Department's responsibilities is to foster deployment of anti-terrorism technology by limiting the liability exposure of vendors.

But more than a year after the formation of the department few companies have applied for protection under the Support Anti-terrorism by Fostering Effective Technologies Act of 2002 and none have been approved.

Several congressmen think that HSD has thrown up unnecessary roadblocks.

The department's application process is becoming 'bogged down in lengthy and burdensome bureaucratic reviews,' the congressmen said in a letter to Homeland Security secretary Tom Ridge.

The May 11 letter from representatives F. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), chairman of the Judiciary Committee; Christopher Cox (R-Calif.), chairman of the Select Committee on Homeland Security; and Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the Government Reform Committee, urges the secretary to reform and streamline the process, making it 'a means of facilitating transactions, not erecting additional barriers to deployment.'

The SAFETY Act, incorporated into legislation creating the new department, eliminates or limits punitive and other non-economic damages against vendors and developers of the technology in terrorism cases. It creates an exclusive federal cause of action for claims against the companies and limits the sellers' total liability to the amount of insurance coverage required under the act.

According to the congressmen, the department's role is simply to do a basic analysis of technology to ensure that it works and is not dangerous, and then turn to the insurance marketplace for pricing and coverage levels that should be applied. They claim that the initial rules for the process are too complex and unclear about the amount of protection provided.

The congressmen recommend that DHS:

  • 'Unequivocally dispel any lingering notion that the SAFETY Act is to be narrowly construed,' and make it clear that it is not limited only to technologies that would be otherwise uninsurable.

  • Streamline the application process and establish a process to prioritize and expedite certification of critical technologies.

  • Limit the amount of information requested, using information already provided to potential buyers when available.

  • Not establish its own performance standards for products.

  • Not make SAFETY Act designation conditional upon additional operating criteria, and make it clear that coverage under the act will not be terminated if the product is changed.

The congressmen requested a formal response from the secretary within two weeks. The department did not respond to requests for comment on the letter.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.


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