Another questioner asked what could be done to bring science and engineering into the decision-making process, especially where non-scientists “might go overboard in paranoia.” He cited the example of a section of Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington that had been closed for seven years, noting that the White House had already been fortified against a car or truck bomb on the avenue with 660 tons of steel, concrete, and laminated glass windows. Yet, he said, there were current plans for additional expenditure of $6.1 million to break up Pennsylvania Avenue and install gravel, and on the E Street side, which is farther from the White House, to spend $100 million to build a tunnel. The questioner asked how scientists and engineers could help prevent such unwise expenditures, including those that might restrict basic American freedoms.
Mr. O’Keefe agreed with the questioner that “we’ve figured out the most difficult way possible to prepare for possible circumstances,” including some “amazingly silly approaches.” He said that most were proposed in good faith, and that with the passage of time, “sobriety will set in.”
A questioner suggested that consolidating the activities of other agencies for the new department might disrupt working relationships in all sectors. Referring to Mr. O’Keefe’s earlier experience at OMB, he asked whether it would not be desirable to name a new associate director of OMB for homeland security and adapt the multi-agency approach of OMB to the new Department of Homeland Security.
Mr. O’Keefe agreed that such a move would have the advantage of cross-cutting perspective, but he said that a larger question concerned how Congress would choose to consider and dispose of requests for resources, so as to keep the process moving. That, he said, would be “more important than some organizational twist.”
Ronald Stoltz of Sandia Laboratories said that his facility was actively involved in a bridging role with Lawrence Livermore labs in preparation for the new DHS. He said they were using existing capabilities, not building new ones. Dr. Stoltz then directed a question to Gordon Moore about partnerships in Silicon Valley, specifically the issue of whether product liability should be extended to cover software. He said that is was a large issue that potentially could impede partnerships for homeland security, and asked if STEP had considered it. Dr. Moore answered that the committee had not yet considered it, but agreed on its importance. “If liabilities get extended too far,” he said, “it slows innovation.” He said that society had to decide on a balance that made sense. “Probably, liabilities will be pushed farther than technical people would have wanted if they’d thought of it in the beginning.”
Mr. O’Keefe offered a similar view, saying that NASA had to deal with questions of product liability every day. “In trying to conquer challenges we’ve never had before,” he said, “we often have no benchmark to calibrate the likelihood of success. We try technical forecasting, but it really comes down to risk management. That can be the fastest way to stifle innovation.”