Why Isn’t Science at Homeland Security Peer Reviewed?

first_imgSince being established 6 years ago, the Science and Technology Directorate of the Department of Homeland Security has been the black sheep (subs. required) of the federal scientific community, with lawmakers criticizing it from time to time for poor management, shoddy accounting, and cluelessness over the setting of priorities. At a House of Representatives hearing this afternoon on how the directorate is doing, legislators discussed yet another concern: the lack of peer review in funding research projects. Cindy Williams, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology researcher who chaired a study of the S&T directorate at the behest of the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA), told the House Science Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation that DHS was awarding “many basic research projects” without “competition or peer review.” She suggested that the directorate follow the example of other science agencies like the National Science Foundation in giving out grants, and “that funds be awarded on a competitive basis based on scientific peer review except in cases when that is clearly not feasible.” The testimony prompted Representative Adrian Smith (R–NE), the top Republican on the panel, to ask Brad Buswell, acting under secretary of the directorate, if the agency would take Williams’s advice. Buswell was noncommittal. “I agree that competition is good, and that peer-review is one means of assuring that we are selecting high quality projects,” he said, adding that at least some of DHS-funded research projects—including proposals funded through the agency’s Centers of Excellence at universities—were indeed selected using peer-review. But he then added that DHS’s practice of reviewing research proposals internally was no less rigorous than peer-review by scientists outside the agency. 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In interviews with directorate officials, she said, “we were told explicitly that peer review from outside wasn’t needed because the program managers [within the directorate] were the world’s experts” in those fields. “I doubt that they are the world’s only experts.”last_img

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