With backing from Wisconsin’s House and Senate delegation, Congress has approved a grant to a non-profit group created to improve the state’s ability to attract classified and sensitive federal research dollars.

The Wisconsin Security Research Consortium, formally launched this fall by the Wisconsin Technology Council and 11 public and private academic research partners, was designated for a $500,000 grant. The grant was included in an Appropriations conference report covering the federal Commerce, State and Justice departments, and will become effective later in fiscal 2006.

The grant is earmarked for the consortium’s start-up, administrative and research work, not for individual companies.

U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., who helped guide the proposal through Congress, said the Wisconsin Security Research Consortium will help match the state’s research strengths with federal homeland security needs.

“With these funds, the Wisconsin Security Consortium will be able to place Wisconsin’s researchers at the leading edge of groundbreaking research on how to keep our nation safe,” Kohl said after the report passed the Senate, 94-5. “Not only will the Wisconsin Security Consortium provide a great public service, they will also act as a catalyst for economic growth and development throughout Wisconsin.”

U.S. Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., guided the legislation on the House side.

Under a memorandum of understanding signed earlier this year, the Tech Council will become the administrative agent for the Wisconsin Security Research Consortium. It will spearhead efforts to apply for grants to conduct classified or sensitive research in areas where the federal government has identified a need. Those areas could include biodefense, rapid response, engineering physics, composite materials, water and food security, biometrics, vaccines, biosensors and more.

Through its “Vision 2020: A Model Wisconsin Economy” report, the Tech Council identified the state’s core research strengths – and many of them matched federal needs in homeland security. Experts have told the Tech Council that Wisconsin may have 75 to 80 percent of the homeland security technologies on the broad federal “shopping list,” which centers on technologies in prevention, detection, reaction and recovery.

“In light of the significant effects these and other technologies would have on public and personal safety, it is in the national interest to make sure Wisconsin public institutions and its private companies are positioned to be part of the federal efforts to make the nation safe and secure,” Tech Council President Tom Still said.

The initial members of the Wisconsin Security Research Consortium are the UW System, UW-Madison, UW-Milwaukee, UW-Stevens Point, UW-Superior, UW-La Crosse, UW-Stout, UW-Extension, the Medical College of Wisconsin, the Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation, the Milwaukee School of Engineering and the Tech Council. The consortium will eventually include associate members from private industry.

The consortium will:

1.      Assess Wisconsin’s core competencies in technologies related to homeland security, from both research institution and private company perspectives.

2.      Help lead companies through the process of applying for federal grants and seeking federal contracts.

3.      Provide a pathway to federal opportunities for professors and researchers through the UW-Madison Office of Corporate Relations and comparable offices within the UW System and private institutions.

4.      Partnering with various campuses, establish a system to easily facilitate questions from businesses in search of UW System or private college expertise.

5.      Organize a team of research, development and tech transfer experts to systematically identify federal opportunities and to advise members of the congressional delegation. The consortium is an associate member of the Institute for Defense and Homeland Security in Herndon, Va.

6.      Where necessary, designate the independent, non-profit WSRC to serve as a “catch point” for federal R&D dollars in classified and sensitive research areas.

“This is a strategic approach to utilizing the strengths of high-technology Wisconsin businesses and the capabilities of our academic institutions and research centers,” Tech Council and WSRC board member Tom Hefty said. “It will better enable the federal government to determine how these capabilities and new technologies fit with its homeland security priorities.”

Since the terrorism attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the government has shifted more than $2 billion in non-classified research spending into classified research. While Wisconsin performs well in attracting academic research grants across all categories, it has lagged in obtaining grants in classified or sensitive areas. For example, Wisconsin’s federal research grants exceed those in neighboring Minnesota by $100 million a year, but total federal spending in Minnesota exceeds Wisconsin by $400 million per year when all military spending is added into the calculation.

Here are examples of Wisconsin’s research strengths in the homeland security area:

•      Bordered by the Mississippi River and Lake Michigan, Wisconsin plays a critical role in the preservation of our nation’s water supply.  The UW-La Crosse River Studies Center and the UW-Milwaukee Great Lakes Wisconsin Aquatic Technology and Environmental Research (WATER) Institute’s Center for Water Security are well-positioned to address water security issues.

•      Health and biomedical research facilities such as the Marshfield Clinic, the UW Medical School, the Medical College of Wisconsin, and other integrated health research facilities that are well-positioned to provide innovative solutions in the areas of biodefense, vaccines, food and water safety and vector-borne diseases. The Marshfield Clinic, for example, was the first to isolate monkey pox. Two Wisconsin companies were the first to develop tests for the SARS virus. Most recently, UW-Madison virologist Yoshiro Kawaoka has developed techniques to shave valuable time off bird-flu vaccine production. 

•      Medical equipment providers and companies with information technology and large-scale data storage capabilities are strongly represented in Wisconsin. GE Healthcare (formerly GE Medical Systems), with about 6,000 employees in Wisconsin, is a world leader in imaging and related technologies.

•      The state has a long history relating to the development and use of composite technologies. Nanotechnology research is also growing in importance, with the UW-Madison recently adding four nationally renowned professors and hosting the state’s first-ever nanotechnology conference.

•      Wisconsin is an emerging leader in Radio Frequency Identification technology through companies across the state, many of which are affiliated with the UW’s e-Business Consortium. This technology can enhance security for products, such as food and pharmaceuticals, by preventing potential acts of terrorism such as product tampering and sabotage. By implanting small wireless “tags” in packages, pallets or containers, products can be tracked throughout the supply chain. Most recently, Kimberly-Clark Corp. received the first RFID “Early Adopter” award from Consumer Goods Technology Magazine.

•      Wisconsin has recently become attractive to biometrics companies because of our mass data storage capabilities. Biometrics systems, such as fingerprinting, require rapid data retrieval and matching.