DHS Creates Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office

The DHS Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office will streamline DHS efforts to prevent terrorists and other national security threat actors from using harmful agents, such as chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear material and devices, to harm Americans and U.S. interests.

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen on Dec. 7 announced the establishment of the DHS Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office. The office will elevate and streamline DHS efforts to prevent terrorists and other national security threat actors from using harmful agents, such as chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear material and devices, to harm Americans and U.S. interests.

Nielsen had been sworn in the day before.

The office consolidates key DHS functions and will lead the department's efforts to counter WMD threats, she said, and will allow for increased policy coordination and strategic planning. "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," said Nielsen. "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."

The CWMD Office will be headed by James McDonnell, who was appointed by President Donald J. Trump in June 2017 to serve as director of the DHS Domestic Nuclear Detection Office.

Also on Dec. 7, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report that summarizes work to date by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to consolidate its chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosives (CBRNE) mission functions -- a consolidation that DHS has told Congress will begin in December 2017.

In August 2016, GAO reported that several key factors were not included when DHS evaluated the organizational consolidation of CBRNE functions. For example, DHS did not fully assess and document potential problems that could result from consolidation or include a comparison of benefits and costs, and the agency conducted limited external stakeholder outreach.

GAO had made two recommendations:

  • that DHS complete, document, and make available analyses of key questions related to its consolidation proposal, including: 1) what problems, if any, consolidation may create; 2) a comparison of the benefits and costs; and 3) a broader range of external stakeholder input
  • that DHS use key mergers and organizational transformation practices identified in GAO's previous work to help ensure lessons learned from other reorganizations are considered during the consolidation

DHS disagreed with the first recommendation, and GAO closed it as not implemented. DHS concurred with the second recommendation and said in its October 2017 consolidation notice to Congress that it will consult the practices during implementation.

GAO plans to monitor DHS's implementation of the key practices.

Chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive weapons are called weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). Congress in 2013 directed DHS to review its WMD programs, including the consolidation of CBRNE mission functions.

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