This bill would authorize the creation of the Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction (CWMD) Office, comprised of the Office of Health Affairs and the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office, to streamline and improve coordination of anti-terror efforts. It’d also permanently authorize the Securing the Cities program, which provides federal, state, and local governments with resources to detect and prevent nuclear and radiological attacks in high-risk urban areas, such as New York City.
- Not enactedThe President has not signed this bill
- The senate has not voted
Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs
- senate Committees
- The house Passed September 12th, 2018Passed by Voice Vote
House Committee on Energy and CommerceHouse Committee on Homeland SecurityEmergency Preparedness, Response, and CommunicationsIntroducedJune 22nd, 2018
- house Committees
What is it?
In-Depth: Rep. Dan Donovan (R-NY) introduced this bill to strengthen national security efforts by ensuring that DHS has the structure, authority, and tools it needs to counter weapons of mass destruction:
“The threats our nation faces from our adversaries are always evolving. Terrorist groups want to inflict maximum damage by using a wide scope of weapons including chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) agents. The improvements my bill calls for come directly from expert testimony outlined during a previous hearing on weapons of mass destruction, and it’s critical that we continue to give DHS the tools needed to secure our nation and the American people.”
Discussing this legislation after its introduction, Rep. Donovan added that this bill includes several ideas that were brought up by anti-terror experts at a subcommittee hearing he chaired earlier in 2018:
“The improvements my bill calls for come directly from expert testimony outlined during a previous hearing on weapons of mass destruction, and it’s critical that we continue to give DHS the tools needed to secure our nation and the American people.”
In testimony to the House Homeland Security Committee, DHS officials said that the department is acutely aware of the need for more organization:
“Since the creation of the Department more than 15 years ago, DHS has lacked a focal point in the weapons of mass destruction (WMD) threat space. Through presidential directives and legislation, various WMD-related programs and projects were established within the Department and across multiple components. In some cases, components were established through presidential directives and delegations of authority, but lacked full legislative authorization to carry out such vested responsibilities. This resulted in fragmented missions and uncoordinated activities across the Department, ultimately leading to a lack of strategic direction in this critical mission. Further, the current structure of chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) functions within the Department resulted in a lack of visibility for the mission space, weak internal coordination, and disjointed interagency cooperation. DHS believes it is imperative to streamline and elevate its counter-WMD efforts. Multiple reviews in the last decade—both internal and external to the Department—have highlighted the Department’s shortcomings in this space, as well as the need for a focal point on CBRN matters.”
At DHS’ announcement of the CWMD Office in December 2017, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen called the new office part of an integrated approach to counterterrorism:
“The United States faces rising danger from terrorist groups and rogue nation states who could use chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear agents to harm Americans. That’s why DHS is moving towards a more integrated approach, bringing together intelligence, operations, interagency engagement, and international action. As terrorism evolves, we must stay ahead of the enemy and the establishment of this office is an important part of our efforts to do so.”
Rep. Donald Payne (D-NJ), a ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, feels strongly that DHS should have consulted the committee before implementing the reorganization the created the CWMD Office in December 2017. He contended that DHS should have awaited Congressional authorization before creating the CWMD office:
“I appreciate the congressional authorization process takes time, but it also has value. And this committee (the House Homeland Security Committee) has proven itself to be willing to partner when DHS has wanted to reorganize. DHS officials spoke in generalities about how reorganization advanced the then secretaries unity of effort initiative and created a center point of contact for stakeholders. Such vague explanations are little justification for setting a disrupt… The constitution of this great nation was put in place for a reason. Congress has its role. And to continually circumvent this body that represents the American people it is very dangerous and a slippery slope.”
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) neither opposes nor supports DHS reorganizing itself to include a CWMD Office, but points out that it’s important for DHS to have a clear view of the organizational and administrative challenges associated with the new organizational structure:
“The bottom line is the threat and mission need are clearly the most critical factor for this reorganization,” Currie said. “However, if there is not an honest recognition of the organizational and administrative challenges and a plan to address it. It will be way more difficult than it needs to be... And clearly there are some promising things in this proposal that the previous one lacked. There seems to be a realistic acceptance of past problems that need to be solved. Also, this effort looks to be driven from the components themselves as opposed to the top-down approach that was taken before from the other office of policy.”
This legislation passed the House Homeland Security Committee on a unanimous vote.
Of Note: The CWMD Office in DHS was originally established in 2017, after a reexamination of previous DHS reviews and shortcomings caused DHS leadership, including former Secretary John Kelly and Acting Secretary Elaine Duke, to determine that a CWMD Office was needed to elevate, streamline, and bolster an internal “unity of command” for CWMD capabilities. As a result of this assessment, on October 6, 2017, Secretary Duke informed the Homeland Security Committee that she would use her Section 872 reauthorization authority to create the CWMD office.
The CWMD Office’s mission is to “counter attempts by terrorists or other threat actors to carry out an attack against the United States or its interests using a weapon of mass destruction.” The CWMD Office has three strategic goals: (1) Enhance the nation’s abilities to prevent terrorists and other threat actors from using weapons of mass destruction; (2) Support operational partners in closing capability gaps along adversary pathways; and (3) Invest in and develop innovative technologies to meet partner requirements and improve operations.
Summary by Lorelei Yang
(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / Gwengoat)