Three years after the Department of Homeland Security terminated a program aimed at developing and producing the next-generation of portal systems to detect radiological threats hidden in cargo and vehicles, dozens of the Advanced Spectroscopic Portals (ASP) are being used in operations and for scientific research, a department official said on Tuesday.

Following cancellation of the program in 2011, some of the 36 ASPs purchased through low-rate production are now being used by universities and the national laboratories for research and others are being used overseas by the Energy Department as part of its Second Line of Defense operations to scan cargo at international seaports, Huban Gowadia, director of the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO), told the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection, and Security Technologies. “They continue to be operated in the field for overseas scanning operations,” she said.

Dr. Huban Gowadia, director, Domestic Nuclear Detection Office. Photo: DHS
Dr. Huban Gowadia, director, Domestic Nuclear Detection Office. Photo: DHS

Gowadia also said that DNDO has given five of the portal monitors to five states, Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Missouri, and New Mexico, and plans to provide two to California. At least one of these states, including California, have separately purchased radiation portal monitors for use in helping to guard against the illicit transport of radiological and special nuclear materials that could be used for weapons of mass destruction or dirty bombs.

In addition to the portal systems, nine mobile SUV-mounted advanced spectroscopic detection systems were developed as part of the ASP program. Gowadia said seven of these systems have been put to use in various states, including New York, the Washington, DC area, Alabama and Florida.

Overall, “These systems have served as a means to gather important technical data, operational data, and maintenance data,” Gowadia said. “And they will certainly factor in to all of our technology programs moving forward, our acquisition programs moving forward, and in fact they will inform our Analysis of Alternatives for whatever we will do next for our radiation portal monitors.”

DNDO originally selected three contractors to compete for ASP development and testing work, including Canberra Industries, Raytheon [RTN] and Thermo Fisher Scientific [TMO]. Canberra was dropped prior to the program being cancelled and DNDO said when the program was ended that the Raytheon systems would be used for further evaluations.

DHS ultimately cancelled the program because it didn’t meet requirements at ports of entry in the United States, including truck speeds.

Gowadia also said that the most lessons learned from the ASP had to do with proper acquisition, adding that here agency’s “discipline” in this respect has been “turned up.”