Bill Would Ensure Critical National Security Office Can Continue Operations
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Gary Peters (D-MI), Chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and John Cornyn (R-TX), introduced bipartisan legislation to prevent a critical national security office that protects Americans from threats posed by weapons of mass destruction from being forced to close its doors. The authorization for the Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction (CWMD) Office at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is set to expire early next year unless quick action is taken. Peters and Cornyn’s Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Extension Act of 2023 would ensure that the federal government can continue its work to defend against threats from weapons of mass destruction – which include chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear weapons. The bill provides stability for the office by extending the authority to conduct its national security missions for two more years.
“Weapons of mass destruction, including chemical and radiological weapons, could have catastrophic effects if used in an attack on the United States. These threats are continuing to grow, and we must ensure that the Department of Homeland Security can continue its crucial work to address these serious risks uninterrupted,” said Senator Peters. “I will continue working along with Senator Cornyn to pass additional legislation to ensure the federal government can effectively address these complex and dangerous threats. But there is simply too much at risk if this office is forced to stop operations, and I urge my colleagues to quickly pass this short-term extension to protect our national security.”
“While new technology has improved our lives in countless ways, it has also opened the door for bad actors to harm our country,” said Senator Cornyn. “The Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office was created to prevent chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear materials from falling into the wrong hands, and this legislation would make sure it can continue protecting Americans from weapons of mass destruction.”
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. Last month, in Houston, Texas, a Houston Police Department officer unearthed “potentially dangerous radioactive material abandoned in a […] scrapyard” thanks to a device he was provided by the CWMD Office. According to the Houston Chronicle, it was “the largest-ever local finding in a program designed to root out sources that could be used to make ‘dirty bombs.’”
Senators Peters and Cornyn have also introduced the bipartisan Offices of Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction and Health Security Act, which makes permanent the CWMD Office and the Office of Health Security within DHS. The bill, which advanced out of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in June 2023, clarifies the roles and responsibilities of the CWMD Office’s 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.