Current Situation

The structure of federal agencies is the product of history, to a large extent the result of the Cold War and of the traditional distinction between the responsibility for national security and the responsibility for domestic policy. Federal agencies are structured to deal with problems that can be partitioned into war or criminal justice, national or foreign affairs, short-term or long-term strategy, and public or private duty. Given this compartmentalization, the federal government is not appropriately organized to carry out an S&T agenda for countering catastrophic terrorism. Making the task even harder, the S&T resources are in one set of agencies and the homeland-defense missions in another; federal and state responsibilities are overlapping; and the critical infrastructure systems owned and operated by the private sector are attractive terrorist targets. It is clear that the task of designing S&T efforts to counter terrorism, of assigning responsibilities among federal agencies, and of monitoring and managing their performance is daunting indeed.

Issues Driving the Need for Coordination Across the Federal Government

A number of factors are driving the need for an unprecedented level of coordination across the federal government. One important factor is the minimal overlap between the agencies that have historically performed innovative research that could now be applied to counterterrorism and the agencies with operational missions in homeland security. This issue is discussed in the penultimate section of this chapter, on the role of the federal agencies in developing and using science and technology for countering terrorism.

Another factor driving the need for coordination of counterterrorism activities in the federal government is the crosscutting nature and broad applicability of many of the most relevant technologies. This issue is discussed at length in Chapter 11. One example of a crosscutting technology is sensor networks, which have the potential to mitigate a variety of threats and to facilitate rapid response to a variety of attacks. Yet the research needed to build a viable system of sensors occurs in many fields (chemistry, biology, physics, and information technology, among others), is supported by many agencies (such as NSF, DARPA, and DOE), is performed in multiple sectors (universities, national laboratories, industry), and ultimately must be deployed as one element in an integrated security system.

A third factor contributing to the need for government coordination is the complex and diverse nature of the systems that may be terrorist targets. A systems approach must be taken in order to understand the vulnerabilities and define the S&T goals even within just one system, such as the electric power grid

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