WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Gary Peters (D-MI), Chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, convened a hearing with health care and national security experts to examine the United States’ readiness to respond to biosecurity threats, such as bacteria, viruses, or toxins that can be used as weapons against humans, plants, or animals. The hearing discussed how lawmakers can work to ensure the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction (CWMD) Office, and other federal programs tasked with tackling biological threats, have the resources and tools needed to fulfill their mission.
“We also face threats from biological weapons that have been manufactured and weaponized for the purpose of deliberately targeting Americans. For example, we have seen bad actors deliberately use anthrax, ricin and other harmful biological agents in attempted attacks, including targeting elected officials. These bioweapons have the potential to cause everything from mass casualties and incapacitation to agricultural destruction and other serious disruptions to our economic and national security,” said Senator Peters during his opener. “Compared to other weapons of mass destruction, bioweapons are cheaper to develop, can be deployed covertly, and often have a delayed onset, making them an appealing choice for bad actors to utilize in randomized and targeted acts.”
To watch video of Senator Peters’ questions, click here.
The CWMD Office leads DHS’s efforts to detect, recognize, and evaluate threats from weapons of mass destruction, including biological weapons. The office – which requires reauthorization from Congress by the end of 2023 – continues to face significant challenges in bolstering our nation’s ability to foresee and combat biological threats. According to the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) 2021 report, the CMWD office’s biosurveillance programs – including Biowatch and its replacement, the Biological Detection for the 21st Century Program – have had marginal success in improving our nation’s ability to identify biological threats. During today’s hearing, Peters and the witnesses discussed these issues and whether structural changes at DHS are needed to ensure the CWMD Office and its biosurveillance and detection programs can successfully carry out and define its mission. Peters and the witnesses also discussed the GAO report which identified several challenges with the implementation of the National Biodefense Strategy, and how the federal government can effectively execute this comprehensive plan.