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Sheila J.
Democrat TX 18

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  • Department of Homeland Security Cbrne Defense Act of 2015

    by Representative Sheila Jackson Lee

    Posted on 2015-12-10

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    Read More about Department of Homeland Security Cbrne Defense Act of 2015

    JACKSON LEE. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

    [[Page H9247]] Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of H.R. 3875, the Department of Homeland Security CBRNE Defense Act of 2015.

    Mr. Speaker, we were here 2 days ago, and I said that the American people are looking for the homeland to be safe. As I stand here today in the backdrop of a recent classified briefing for many Members, I again say that the issue of homeland security is not a partisan issue.

    I am very grateful to Mr. McCaul and Mr. Thompson of Mississippi, the ranking member, for their bipartisanship and the bipartisanship of this committee. Working alongside the other jurisdictional committees--that includes my other committee, Judiciary, that has, as their ranking member, Mr. Conyers, and chairman, Mr. Goodlatte, and many other committees--our commitment should be to secure the American people.

    So, in this instance, pursuant to the fiscal year 2013 Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, the Department of Homeland Security was directed to evaluate its activities related to preventing and responding to threats posed by chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive, CBRNE, weapons and to determine whether there were ways to improve coordination of those activities.

    Nearly 2 years later, DHS submitted its report to Congress and requested that certain activities and offices within the Department be consolidated to create a center of gravity for the DHS CBRNE activities.

    H.R. 3875 seeks to implement much of the Department's proposal. In particular, the bill would bring the Office of Health Affairs, the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office, the Office of Bombing Prevention, the chemical and biological risk assessment activities Science and Technology Directorate, and staff from the Office of Policy and Office of Coordination Operations together in a single office, headed by a new assistant secretary.

    I distinctly remember being in some of the meetings and hearings that drew about some of these coordinated activities, and I believe the new assistant secretary will be a very effective tool for making America safer.

    During committee consideration of the measure, the committee accepted an amendment authored by Ranking Member Thompson to protect the missions of the offices brought together and prevent some of the disruption that could be caused by this kind of reorganization.

    The amendment acknowledges that this reorganization will likely necessitate new expenditures. For instance, DHS may need to utilize retention bonuses to retain highly skilled, much-sought-after nuclear and biodefense experts who otherwise would leave DHS because of their lowered position and reduced prospects for advancement. I believe we should do that.

    Ranking Member Thompson's amendment also protects the role of the Chief Medical Officer as a leader within the Department on public health and medical issues by preserving the CMO's direct line to the Secretary.

    The amendment allows for the establishment of a health division within the new office which could serve as a base of operations for the Chief Medical Officer's public health activities.

    I might comment very briefly further on this. We have found that we live in a situation where, whether it is a natural disaster, but in this instance a terrorist situation that comes about, there is certainly major need for coordinated health activities that a person briefed, informed, and trained under DHS, with the expertise, can give to local entities and States.

    For example, a hospital in my community, St. Joseph Medical Center, is the only hospital in a very intense downtown urban center. We would be interested in making sure that all of those health systems work.

    As a nation, we cannot afford to have focus and attention toward the CBRNE mission diminished as a result of the unavoidable staff upheaval and infighting associated within any organization of this order.

    Accordingly, I am pleased that H.R. 3875, as amended, will help bolster the Department's ability to carry out this reorganization without diminishing its ability to continue to carry out its CBRNE mission.

    Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak in support of H.R. 3875, the ``Department of Homeland Security CBRNE Defense Act of 2015.'' As a Senior Member of the Homeland Security Committee, I served as Ranking Member of the Border and Maritime Subcommittee during the last Congress and in a previous Congress chaired the Subcommittee on Transportation Security.

    It is important that the House take up the issue of how the WMD programs within the Department of Homeland Security are managed, which is why I am an original sponsor of the bill.

    Events over the last Congress make it clear that Congress should be even more vigilant in providing for the protection of the United States.

    Congress should be mindful of the: United States' leadership in the effort to forge an enforceable and verifiable nuclear agreement with Iran; deadliness of chemical weapons when they were used during the Syrian conflict against unarmed men, women, and children; and arrival of Ebola in Dallas, Texas and the cases that were treated around the nation.

    The bill authorizes an Office of Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and Explosives (CBRNE) Defense within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

    Departments and agencies across the U.S. government have centralized their weapons of mass destruction (WMD) defense programs to provide clear focal points for dealing with this threat.

    However, DHS responsibilities in the chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosives areas continue to be spread across many offices in the Department with varying authorities and functions, affecting strategic direction as well as interdepartmental and interagency coordination.

    This bill will bring DHS into line with the Defense Department, State Department, CIA, and FBI, which each have a lead office or bureau charged with defending America against chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosives (CBRNE) threats.

    This is the result of many years of oversight by the Committee on Homeland Security on the Department's management of CBRNE activities.

    The bill authorizes a CBRNE Office, led by a Presidentially-appointed Assistant Secretary.

    The bill directs the Secretary to include within the new CBRNE Office: the Office of Health Affairs; the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office; risk assessment activities and personnel of the Science and Technology Directorate; CBRNE activities and personnel of the Office of Policy and Operations Coordination and Planning; and the Office for Bombing Prevention.

    The bill provides specific responsibilities of the Assistant Secretary and needed structure for the management of CBRNE activities.

    DHS provided its proposal for consolidation of CBRNE activities to the Committee in June.

    The Subcommittees on Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Communications; and Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection, and Security Technologies held a hearing in July on the Department's proposal.

    I urge my colleagues on in the House to join me in supporting this important step forward.

    Our work is not yet done, but we are creating the groundwork for a safer and more resilient WMD deterrent, detection, and remediation federal homeland effort.

    I appreciate the Homeland Security Committee's interest in my bill H.R. 85, Terrorism Prevention and Critical Infrastructure Protection Act.

    Like Chairman McCaul, and Ranking Member Thompson, I regard securing our nation's critical infrastructure from terrorist threats as a top national and homeland security priority.

    I share the understanding regarding how important it is to draft legislation that addresses the cyber threat posed by computer viruses and worms designed to destroy or cripple industrial control systems that sustain critical infrastructure is a serious challenge.

    recommendation: support Fixing a Broken Bureaucracy--H.R. 3875 increases transparency and accountability at DHS by bringing the Department's fragmented WMD defense programs under one roof and putting a lead official in charge.

    Most security agencies (the Defense Department, State Department, CIA, and FBI) have a lead office or bureau charged with using their resources to defend America against chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosives (CBRNE) threats.

    But DHS does not--its WMD defense programs are scattered across multiple offices, a fractured approach that weakens our ability to confront these dangers on the frontlines.

    The disorganization creates inefficiency, generates confusion about who is in charge at DHS, makes interagency collaboration more difficult, and drives away top talent.

    The CBRNE Defense Act combines six separate offices and programs into one central CBRNE Office at DHS headquarters, led by a senior official who reports directly to the Secretary.

    Elevating a Critical Mission--H.R. 3875 creates a stronger, unified office equipped to keep the nation safe from WMD threats, and [[Page H9248]] it ensures these issues will always stay on the Department's ``front burner.'' America faces persistent risk from terrorists and rogue states that want to threaten our people with weapons of mass destruction.

    But under the current structure at DHS, important WMD defense efforts can get lost in the bureaucratic noise.

    By consolidating these programs, the legislation will keep WMD challenges on the radar of top officials.

    It will also allow DHS to conduct its CBRNE activities more strategically and effectively.

    Streamlining Government--H.R. 3875 helps prevent taxpayer dollars from being wasted--and aims to reduce overlap and duplication wherever possible.

    Hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars have been spent on failed CBRNE programs at DHS that were ill-planned and lacked effective oversight and management.

    This legislation ensures DHS programs for combating WMD threats will be better coordinated and more closely monitored at the highest levels of the Department.

    The bill simplifies the Secretary's ability to oversee the Department's WMD defense activities by consolidating standalone offices and streamlining the reporting structure.

    I also creates the possibility of long-term savings by allowing the merged offices to combine their administrative functions.

    Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.

    Mr. McCAUL. Mr. Speaker, I have no more speakers. If the gentlewoman from Texas has no further speakers, I am prepared to close once the gentlewoman does.

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