Terrorism Risk Review Outdated Before Release

The Homeland Security Department paid $450,000 for an independent organization to make recommendations on a classified terrorism program, but the review — which took two years to complete — is practically outdated as it's released Friday.

In 2006, the department asked the National Academies to review its Bioterrorism Risk Assessment tool — a presidential mandated program that assesses millions of potential bioterrorist attack scenarios, such as anthrax that is widely dispersed in a major city. For each scenario, it defines the likelihood of the attack happening and what the consequences would be.

The review took two years to complete because it took one year to hold five meetings on it, six months to do an internal review process with 10 separate reviewers, and six months for the Homeland Security Department to review it, said Greg Parnell, chair of the National Academies committee that wrote the report.

Parnell said the department knew the review would take well over a year to complete.

The National Academies recommended that the department simplify the formula, create a standard lexicon, and think of terrorists as "intelligent adversaries" who know about U.S. defenses. The formula should also be used to help make decisions and not just to rank risk, Parnell said.

The Homeland Security Department has thus far used the academic formula to prioritize department research goals and detection investments, said department spokeswoman Amy Kudwa. It's been used by several federal agencies to help decide which drugs to buy for the strategic national stockpile based on what threats are considered the most serious and most likely.

But the department has already updated its program to include several of these points, Kudwa said. And in other instances, the Academies' recommendations are contrary to what the department and other leading academics consider the best methods.

The $450,000 used for the commissioned review came out of the program's 2006 budget, which was $4.9 million. The department is required to review and make necessary changes to the program every two years.