GAO: Dry runs make radiation-detection tests unreliable

The Government Accountability Office says that the Department of Homeland Security has been encouraging vendors of new radiation detection equipment to cheat on upcoming tests, The Washington Post reports.Those tests are supposed to determine whether Congress moves forward with $1.

The Government Accountability Office says that the Department of Homeland Security has been encouraging vendors of new radiation detection equipment to cheat on upcoming tests, The Washington Post reports.

Those tests are supposed to determine whether Congress moves forward with $1.2 billion in funding for the machines. But it seems that DHS allowed vendors to do "dry runs" and to collect data on the testing materials and "adjust their systems accordingly."

"Almost all of the materials, and combinations of materials, DNDO used in the formal tests were identical to those that the ASP contractors had specifically set their ASP's to identify from dry runs and dress rehearsals," the GAO briefing papers said.

Congresspersons were outraged and the Energy and Commerce Committee launched a hearing.

"DHS' handling of this issue would be comical if the threat of nuclear terror wasn't so real," said Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, adding that the department should not plan to use "these machines based upon these tests."

Meanwhile, DHS spokesman Russ Knocke said "dry runs are a smart and common practice for testing programs and technologies prior to live use."

"ASP systems will have been subjected to the most rigorous and comprehensive evaluation of any radiation detection equipment ever deployed by the U.S. government," Knocke said. "The department has put forward a prudent approach to testing a system that is very much needed, and is already showing promise of considerable improvements over current capabilities."

GAO does not agree. Its auditors say "test methods did not provide a fair and balanced evaluation of the ASPs' capabilities." GAO concluded that the test results "should not be relied upon to make a full-scale production decision."

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