Congress moves to ensure the greater availability of explosives detecting dogs in the US
© Courtesy of New York's Metropolitan Transit Authority Police Department

Dogs are working on the front lines of homeland security, protecting some of our most vulnerable public spaces. Patrolling airports, stadiums, and train stations to sniff out explosives, they are a vital and irreplaceable piece of American law enforcement. Congress has just taken a major step forward to ensure that we can acquire and train enough dogs to meet our security needs.

The global demand for highly trained, explosive detection dogs is only increasing. Despite technological advances in almost every facet of security, when it comes to explosives detection, dogs remain the most accurate, cost-effective, and reliable way of locating explosives. As a result, law enforcement agencies across the world are in heated competition to acquire the most suitable dogs for these tasks.

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For the U.S., this most often means relying on foreign dog breeders to meet this demand. The Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security source up to 90 percent of their dogs from European breeders, one of our few vital security needs that is effectively outsourced.

There are significant drawbacks to this approach. Government buyers commonly find themselves in bidding wars with deep-pocketed international competitors. This limits the number of dogs we are able to purchase, and often has us losing out on higher-quality dogs, which are either retained by their European home countries or sold to a higher bidder.

To make things even tougher, not every dog purchased overseas by the U.S. government is cut out for a career in law enforcement. Successful working dogs need to have the right combination of sociability, temperament, and work ethic, while also passing strict medical examinations and training protocols. A significant number of imported dogs wash out of training and cannot be deployed for their original purpose. This puts further pressure on supply and our ability to keep our public safe.

High-quality American dog breeders want, and should be able, to step in to meet this demand. Americans have the scientific expertise in genetics, genomics, animal husbandry, training, and animal care to make this happen, but bureaucratic hurdles and an often-arcane government contracting process are preventing them from doing so.

Most American breeders are small-time operations, which put them at a disadvantage when applying for government contracts, which usually favor large breeders with more dogs to offer. As small businesses, most American breeders are not experienced in the federal procurement process, which keeps many from even trying to supply the government with dogs.

The U.S. government also engages in practices that work against American breeders. For example, the government usually will not purchase dogs that are younger than nine months; most American breeders are not equipped to house a dog past 12 weeks. For most small breeders, this makes the costs of dealing with the government prohibitive.

These issues require a legislative solution, and Congress has taken important action to fix this problem. In the House, Rep. Mike RogersMichael (Mike) Dennis RogersWhite House to convene social media summit after new Trump attacks Overnight Defense: Latest on Iran after Trump halts planed strike | Dems call Trump's approach 'erratic' | Key Republican urges Trump to retaliate | Esper reportedly getting Defense secretary nomination GOP rep: Trump needs to retaliate against Iran to deter other hostile nations MORE (R-Ala.) has taken the lead with the Domestic Explosives Detection Canine Capacity Building Act. It requires that the TSA establish a public-private working group bringing together top experts in animal science, husbandry, training and detection operations to develop non-governmental breeding networks for explosives detection dogs. The working group will also establish a set of clear medical, behavioral and training standards for breeders to adhere to.

The Senate Commerce Committee, led by Chairman John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSenate passes .5 billion border bill, setting up fight with House Senate GOP to defeat proposal requiring approval for Iran attack Senate GOP aims to jam House Democrats on border fight MORE (R-S.D.), Ranking Member Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonDemocrats target Florida Hispanics in 2020 Poll: Six Democrats lead Trump in Florida match-ups How Jim Bridenstine recruited an old enemy to advise NASA MORE (D-Fla.) and Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntSenate GOP blocks election security bill Hillicon Valley: Senate bill would force companies to disclose value of user data | Waters to hold hearing on Facebook cryptocurrency | GOP divided on election security bills | US tracking Russian, Iranian social media campaigns This week: Congress set for clash on Trump's border request MORE (R-Mo.,) and Ranking Member Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellHillicon Valley: Democratic state AGs sue to block T-Mobile-Sprint merger | House kicks off tech antitrust probe | Maine law shakes up privacy debate | Senators ask McConnell to bring net neutrality to a vote Senators call on McConnell to bring net neutrality rules to a vote Maine shakes up debate with tough internet privacy law MORE (D-Wash.), has also taken steps to solve this issue, incorporating these requirements into the FAA reauthorization bill. When signed into law, it will bring with it a major improvement in airport security.

The inclusion of the Domestic Explosives Detection Canine Capacity Building Act in the FAA reauthorization bill will help bring high quality U.S. dog breeders into the government’s process for procuring working dogs, as well as making that process more open and transparent. We commend Congress for taking bipartisan, commonsense steps to protect our public spaces.

Sheila Goffe is Vice President of Government Relations for the American Kennel Club.