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Homeland Security Is Born

A new player has burst on the U.S. science policy scene. Yesterday, Congress put the finishing touches on legislation to create the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which will combine 22 existing government agencies and spawn an array of new science-related programs. Much to the delight of biomedical research advocates, lawmakers rejected proposals to give the mammoth agency control of major bioterror research and regulatory programs.

Bush Administration officials say it will take at least a year to set up DHS, which is expected to start life with more than 150,000 employees and a budget of $37 billion. Although spending details are still scarce, analysts estimate that nearly $1 billion of those funds could go to R&D efforts. The portfolio will be managed by a new undersecretary for science and technology, who will take advice from a 20-member advisory panel.

The biggest single chunk of science-related cash--up to $500 million next year--will go to a new Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency (HSARPA). The new agency will dole out competitive grants and contracts to universities and companies working on an array of technologies. DHS will also create at least one university-based research center, an independent Homeland Security Institute, and pick one of the Department of Energy's (DOE's) national laboratories to coordinate government research efforts.

Lawmakers opted not to give DHS control of other major science programs, apparently agreeing with research lobbyists that the new department will lack the necessary expertise. A $1.5 billion bioterror research program will stay under the control of the National Institutes of Health, for instance, although DHS will have a say in setting its course. Similarly, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Agriculture will continue to regulate laboratories working with potential bioweapons.

“We're very pleased at how this is turning out,” says Janet Shoemaker of the American Society for Microbiology in Washington, D.C., one of several science and university groups that lobbied hard to shape the new department.

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