Committee Passes Peters and Cornyn Bipartisan Bill to Counter Attacks from Weapons of Mass Destruction and Improve Health Security at DHS

WASHINGTON, DC – Bipartisan legislation authored by U.S. Senators Gary Peters (D-MI) and John Cornyn (R-TX) to significantly enhance the federal government’s ability to protect against threats from weapons of mass destruction, which include chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear weapons has advanced in the Senate. The bill would reauthorize the Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction (CWMD) office, which leads the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) effort to safeguard the country from these threats. The legislation would also authorize the new Office of Health Security that will ensure DHS can better address medical and workforce health related security threats across the Department – including assisting with medical care in the event of potential weapons of mass destruction attacks. The bill was approved by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee where Peters serves as Chair. It now moves to the full Senate for consideration.

“Weapons of mass destruction, including chemical and biological weapons, could have catastrophic affects if used in an attack on the United States. The Department of Homeland Security needs the right tools and resources to protect our nation from these dangerous threats,” said Senator Peters. “This bipartisan legislation will help ensure our nation is prepared to prevent potential attacks and effectively respond in a worst-case scenario.”

“We must be able to recognize and combat the growing number of threats to our national security, including weapons of mass destruction,” said Senator Cornyn. “This bill would enhance our ability to prevent potentially devastating biological, nuclear, and chemical attacks and to respond effectively in a time of crisis.”  

Chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear weapons have the potential to cause everything from mass casualties and incapacitation, to agricultural destruction, and other serious disruptions to our economic and national security. In particular, biological agents, including anthrax and ricin have been used in attacks on Americans. Recent security threats have raised concerns that nuclear and radioactive materials could be stolen and used in a domestic attack. For example, in April 2019, a technician was arrested after stealing three radioactive devices from his workplace in Arizona. According to a court filing, the technician intended to release the radioactive materials at a shopping mall, but local police and the FBI arrested him before he could do so. The senators’ legislation will help ensure our federal government has a plan in place to not only prevent attacks from these weapons, but also to ensure DHS stays closely coordinated with state, local, tribal, and territorial law enforcement and is properly structured to coordinate any necessary medical missionsthat might stem from a chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear attack.

The bipartisan Offices of Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction and Health Security Act makes permanent the CWMD Office and Office of Health Security within DHS. The bill clarifies the roles and responsibilities of the CWMD office responsibilities to address chemical and biological threats – including coordination with DHS components and state, local, tribal, and territorial entities. The legislation also significantly expands congressional oversight of the CWMD office, including by requiring the office to submit a report to Congress every four years on the Department’s strategy to counter weapons of mass destruction and other emerging threats. The bill also codifies responsibilities for the Office of Health Security, including oversight of all medical and workplace safety missions across DHS.