||The founding principle of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is to protect
the American people from terrorist threats. To that end, DHS seeks to develop and
deploy technological solutions enabling enhanced protection. The confluence of homeland
security; research, development, testing and evaluation (RDT&E); and application of
the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process can pose significant challenges
for government, stakeholders and the public, particularly when activities necessarily
transition from beyond the confines of the laboratory to the public environs.
It is well documented that application of the NEPA process early in project planning
can lead to better decisions, through consideration of reasonable alternatives and
their potential impacts upon the human environment. NEPA practitioners frequently
cite large land-use projects or policies as examples of the process well (or not so
well) applied, emphasizing the importance of focusing on the decision to be made and
avoiding narrow consideration of the purpose and need. Yet, agencies are required
to apply the process to all “major federal actions”, and certain types of actions
present inherent challenges to open-minded consideration of the purpose and need.
Particularly, RDT&E activities generally seek to examine specific phenomena, often
times reducing the scope of potential alternatives. Given this constraint, how do
decision-makers employ NEPA to add value in making decisions for in-situ RDT&E? Can
NEPA be a vehicle to better engage and inform the public, allowing decision-makers
to better understand public and stakeholder concerns, and the public to better understand
technologies designed to protect the community? Recognizing the innate challenges
in applying the NEPA process to in-situ homeland security RDT&E initiatives, case
study examination revealed several lessons learned and recommendations.