House Homeland Security Committee Approves Bipartisan Legislation to Help Guard Against a Weapons of Mass Destruction Attack

Press Release

By:  Bennie Thompson Pete King Bill Pascrell, Jr.
Date: May 9, 2012
Location: Washington, DC

The House Committee on Homeland Security today passed bipartisan 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.

U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ) and Rep. Peter T. King (R-NY), Chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, introduced the legislation in June. The bill has the support of 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).

"Since the 21st century began, our Nation has sustained and survived catastrophes caused by terrorism or natural disasters. In each of these instances, we have learned about our preparedness for such disasters and how we could prevent them from happening. It's time that we finally apply what we have learned in preventing and being prepared for a WMD attack," said Pascrell, an original member of the House Committee on Homeland Security. "Our nation is long overdue in enacting on the recommendations of the 9-11 Commission and the WMD Commission. I want to thank Chairman King for his leadership and commitment to our bill, as well as Ranking Member Thompson for his ability to secure bipartisan support for the legislation in the committee. I am deeply proud that the Homeland Security Committee has passed this important legislation. I look forward to an expeditious process in bring this bill forward for a full House vote."

Rep. Peter King (R-NY), Chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, said: "This legislation implements many of the recommendations of the WMD Commission, which in 2008 delivered the dire warning that terrorists are likely to deploy a weapon of mass destruction somewhere in the world by the end of 2013. Today's Committee passage of this vital legislation is an important step in further securing our homeland against such an attack here. I am pleased to have joined Rep. Bill Pascrell, who has been an effective proponent in moving WMD legislation through Congress."

"Congressman Pascrell deserves much credit and praise for taking on the complex challenge of addressing the threat posed by Weapons of Mass Destruction and introducing the "WMD Prevention and Preparedness Act,'" said Ranking Member Thompson. "Passage of this bill will strengthen our Nation's homeland security posture in many critical ways and will enhance our ability to prepare for, respond to, and recover from a potential WMD attack."

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.

In June 2011, Rep. Pascrell testified about the legislation before a joint hearing held by two subcommittees of the House Committee on Homeland Security. Passaic County Sheriff Richard Berdnik also testified at the hearing. 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