Sandia LabNews

Homeland Security visit lays next stage for budding relationship

Successful Homeland Security visit lays next stage for budding relationship

The national labs are the Department of Homeland Security’s "factory for ideas and technologies," DHS official Penrose (Parney) Albright said last Friday during a high-level visit to Sandia.

Albright, Acting Director of Plans, Programs, and Budget, accompanied DHS Under Secretary for Science and Technology Charles (Chuck) McQueary on a two-day trip to review work at Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia. Next week, the two, along with other DHS officials, are scheduled to visit Sandia/California and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

The DHS and DOE/NNSA are forging a cooperative relationship in which the NNSA labs will provide primary R&D resources for the new department while still carrying out their traditional nuclear weapons mission for DOE. McQueary and his delegation are visiting the labs to get a better sense of their capabilities, as well as current and future areas for Homeland Security-related R&D.

The three NNSA labs have been rigorous in taking a unified "tri-lab" approach to their dealings with DHS (see "McQueary likes tri-lab effort," on page 4).

T.J. Allard, who heads up Sandia’s Homeland Security Office, says he was pleased with the quality of the interaction with the DHS delegation.

"It was a great visit," he says. "We covered exactly what we needed to with them. I think we hit a home run with what we covered."

In brief overview remarks, Labs Director C. Paul Robinson noted that Sandia has been involved in issues closely related to homeland security for a number of years. It has, since the mid-1990s, actually organized its business units to reflect R&D activities in many areas with direct homeland security applications.

McQueary, in turn, noted in opening remarks that he and his team view Sandia as a "systems" lab, with a tradition of being able to tackle challenges from a broad-based systems level, considering all the pieces of the puzzle at the same time. He indicated that DHS and his Office of Science and Technology are committed to a long-term relationship with the labs.

Dave Nokes, VP 5000, and T.J. conducted the walk-through briefing/tour for the DHS delegation of Sandia’s recently updated Homeland Security exhibit room in Bldg 810. The exhibit has been reorganized, T.J. says, "to reflect more of how outside folks look at the work instead of how we look at the work." The exhibit room, in fact, is now organized to coordinate with the DHS’s own organizational structure. Thus, as you walk from exhibit to exhibit, you move through areas that correspond to the DHS under-secretariats: Borders and Transportation Security; Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection; Emergency Preparedness and Response; and Science and Technology.

Sandia bomb-disablement guru Chris Cherry talked the visitors through a series of live demonstrations on the Bldg. 810 mall of explosives sniffing, bomb disablement, and explosion containment technologies. The demonstrations were similar to those conducted for DHS Secretary Tom Ridge during his February 2002 visit, with real-world first responders from the Albuquerque Police Department participating.

It turned out the state and local interactions were particularly important to Parney [Albright] and Chuck [McQueary]," T.J. says. "They understand that everything they do has to have meaning at the state and local level, so seeing the involvement of APD turned out to be very impressive to them. And so I went further and explained that that’s just one piece. We talked about the workshop we did last fall, the joint workshop we did with Los Alamos National Lab, and the one we’re doing in October.

We really have had a significant engagement with first responders. And [before the visit] they just didn’t understand that. They were really ‘wowed’ that we had the interfaces, the relationships with the state and local guys."

As a result of the visit, T.J. says, he thinks it is possible that DHS may request the Labs to accelerate work in certain areas.

"I got a call after the visit from Holly [Dockery (5350), a Sandian on "loan" to DHS in Washington], and she anticipates that as a result of the visit, DHS is going to come back with a request to accelerate many of our technologies. We have to be careful not to pin them down, but things like the radiation-detection technologies and MicroChemLab — those are examples of things that they might want to ramp up. I think they’re going to want to take some of these technologies and move them more quickly to the field. And that’s good. That’s just what we should be doing."

McQueary, clearly impressed with what he saw both at Sandia and Los Alamos, said the Science and Technology directorate at DHS is in a catch-up mode relative to the work already on-going at the NNSA labs.

Says T.J., "What he means is that the Labs are out in front; we’ve spent more time on these challenges, so we’re moving faster than S&T is. But his message was, ‘Don’t slow down. We’ll catch up to you; don’t slow down.’ I thought that was a compliment, that, Hey, you guys are doing the right thing, so keep moving."

As a result of the successful DHS visit, T.J. says, "I think we’re ready to start down the path of the specifics of how to do business with each other. We’re going to start shifting into areas like how do you move money; how do you get programs into the labs. We’re moving from the high-level dialogue to the nuts and bolts of implementation.

"One of the things we wanted to make sure of," T.J. says, "was that we reaffirmed the decision [by DHS] to use the NNSA national labs as the DHS national lab. And I think he [McQueary] went away with that. DHS could have tried to start from scratch, to build their own lab from the ground up. And also, Chuck [McQueary] comes from an industry background; he could have said, "Look, I’m just going to pull stuff from industry;’ But I think he sees that the Labs are doing things that he couldn’t get from industry."

McQueary likes tri-lab effort

The visit by DHS Under Secretary for Science and Technology Charles McQueary and his delegation — including Plans, Programs, and Budget Director Parney Albright and Office of the National Laboratory Director Michael Burns — offered a perfect forum to roll out the tri-lab concept. That’s the idea under which the three NNSA labs — Sandia, Los Alamos (LANL), and Lawrence Livermore (LLNL) — present a unified position in their interactions with DHS. The concept, under which a Tri-Lab Council will deal directly with DHS on key issues, is designed to eliminate turf protection, duplication of effort, red tape, and confusion about channels of communication.

When the DHS team visited LANL on May 1, notes Sandia Homeland Security Office chief T.J. Allard, "We were there and Lawrence Livermore was there." Likewise, when the DHS delegation moved on to Sandia on May 2, representatives from LLNL and LANL were there, too.

"One of the things we did up at Los Alamos," says T.J., "was to present the Tri-Lab model that we’ve come up with (Lab News, April 4). At dinner Thursday night — Paul [Robinson] hadn’t been with the group at Los Alamos, so he didn’t know what they had seen — Paul asked them, ‘So what was the highlight of your day today?’ And Chuck [McQueary] said, "The highlight? The Tri-Lab Model. That’s going to make my job a lot easier.'"

It was important to McQueary, T.J. says, to see that the labs have come together.

"In fact, the Los Alamos guys, to their credit, did a great job throughout the day of bringing up Sandia. You know: Sandia’s doing this. Sandia’s taking the lead on that. And this was Los Alamos doing it. And we did the same thing. I was really pleased at how well Los Alamos did that, and we found out that was without prompting.

"The bottom line is, we did reaffirm the wisdom in DHS choosing the NNSA labs to be their national lab."