Today, Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ) and Rep. Peter T. King (R-NY), Chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, introduced legislation that will begin implementing the recommendations of the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission. "The Weapons of Mass Destruction Prevention and Preparedness Act of 2011" (H.R. 2356) would improve U.S. efforts to prevent, protect, respond, and recover from a weapon of mass destruction (WMD) attack in the United States, and is supported by CHS Ranking Member Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS) and CHS Subcommittee Chairmen Daniel E. Lungren (R-CA) and Gus M. Bilirakis (R-FL), and Subcommittee Ranking Members Yvette D. Clarke (D-NY) and Laura Richardson (D-CA).
Rep. Pascrell, an original member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, said: "For years, we have had the benefit of the WMD Commission's findings and recommendations, but we still have not acted upon them. Nearly a decade after the terrorist attacks on 9/11, we have not addressed the greatest catastrophic risk threatening the American people and that is unacceptable. This bipartisan legislation will help provide a truly comprehensive approach to securing the nation against weapons of mass destruction by looking at all angles - prevention and deterrence; preparedness; detection; attribution; response and recovery. It's the time to act decisively to counter this great threat to the American people."
Chairman King said: "Two-and-a-half years have passed since the WMD Commission warned of the likelihood that terrorists will deploy a weapon of mass destruction somewhere in the world by the end of 2013. The Commission accompanied that dire prediction with a series of recommendations on how to prevent, protect against, respond to, and recover from a WMD attack. Now is the time for Congress to implement those critical recommendations. This legislation does just that, improving America's ability to combat the WMD threat posed by al-Qaeda and its affiliates. I appreciate Bill Pascrell's dedication to this vital issue."
Ranking Member Thompson added: "Today, I am glad to report that our Committee is once again working in a bipartisan fashion to counter the pressing WMD threat and ensure we do not repeat the fragmented security policies and inadequate resourcing of the past. Congressman Pascrell's bill ensures first responders have the committed and collaborative federal partner needed to address the unique issues of a potential WMD attack."
Rep. Bilirakis, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Communications, said: "The "WMD Prevention and Preparedness Act of 2011' is a comprehensive bill that addresses the findings of the WMD Commission's report, "World at Risk.' We simply cannot continue to ignore the warnings that we have received about the threat of weapons of mass destruction. The time for Congress to act is now."
Ranking Member Richardson said: "We must act now, prior to a potential attack, to ensure that the personnel, plans, equipment, and other resources are in place to effectively respond to weapons of mass destruction. This bill ensures first responders are supported through training, exercise participation, intelligence sharing, grant funding, and inclusion in the preparedness planning process. I am proud that this Committee is working together to move this bill forward and address these security gaps."
Rep. Lungren, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection, and Security Technologies said: "At a joint subcommittee hearing Thursday, we examined the WMD issue and heard expert testimony on the merits of this important legislation. I believe this bill introduced by Rep. Pascrell and Chairman King will advance efforts to prevent and prepare for a WMD attack. I am proud to sign on as an original co-sponsor."
Ranking Member Clarke added: "As a Member of the House Homeland Security Committee who represents New York City, I fully understand and am sensitive to how a single weapon of mass destruction can devastate huge populations and render infrastructure that serves millions of our citizens unusable. For this reason I am thankful to Rep. Bill Pascrell for introducing this bipartisan bill that addresses every stage of the threat -- from prevention and deterrence through recovery. I look forward to working with my colleagues to ensure we have a comprehensive approach to protecting our homeland."
In December 2008, the WMD Commission, headed by former U.S. Sens. Bob Graham (D-FL) and Jim Talent (R-MO), issued its original report. A year later, the Commission issued a "report card" that gave mixed grades for U.S. efforts, including "F's" for the Nation's failures to develop rapid-response capabilities for a biological attack, and to implement retention and recruiting programs for the next generation of national security experts. The Commission also noted the U.S. Congress' failure to consolidate its oversight to better address intelligence, homeland security, and other national security missions.
On Thursday, Rep. Pascrell testified about the legislation before a joint hearing held by two subcommittees of the House Committee on Homeland Security. Presiding over the hearing were Rep. Lungren, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection, and Security Technologies, and Rep. Bilirakis, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Communications.
A transcript of Rep. Pascrell's testimony can be found here.
The purpose of the legislation is to significantly improve the Nation's efforts to prepare for a WMD attack as well as prevent one from happening. The legislation addresses the nation's readiness for a biological weapons attack by calling for:
* the appointment of a special assistant to the President for biodefense to coordinate federal biodefense policy
* the development of a national biodefense plan and a coordinated budget that assess capability gaps and spending inefficiencies
* a national biosurveillance strategy.
* provisions for our first responders, including voluntary vaccinations and response guidance for chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear incidents
* authorization of the Securing the Cities program to allow for interdiction of a radiological device in high-risk cities
Other original co-sponsors of the legislation are Reps. Mike Rogers (R-AL), Hansen Clarke (D-MI), Candice Miller (R-MI) and Patrick Meehan (R-PA), all of whom are Members of the Committee on Homeland Security.
U.S. Senators Joseph Lieberman (ID-CT) and Susan Collins (R-ME) are expected to introduce companion legislation in the U.S. Senate.