Examining the DHS Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office


By: Joshua Walker - NDIA Junior Fellow, School of Global Policy and Strategy, UC San Diego

On July 16, 2021, the House Homeland Security Committee heard testimony from the Department of Homeland Security Office for Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction (CWMD) regarding its continued development and internal struggles since its authorization in 2018. Chairwoman Val Demings (D-FL) and Ranking Member Kat Cammack (R-FL) expressed concern in their testimonies that CWMD has struggled accomplishing the central goal of streamlining preventative technologies and measures that would ensure non-state actors and rogue actors from developing and using weapons of mass destruction (WMD). The office disbanded risk assessments, reassigned experts, and continued practices that have proved futile in preventing terrorists and rogue actors from having access to WMD. Moreover, Chairman Demings noted specifically in her opening testimony that numerous governmental and nongovernmental reports indicated that there are significant structural and workforce morale issues within CWMD. In short, this hearing was tasked with gaining further insight into the role of the CWMD and what the House of Representatives can do to provide support for agents and professionals in that office.

Acting Assistant Secretary of CWMD Gary Raiscot began his testimony with a broad outlook on the priorities of the CWMD and the accomplishments it has had in recent history. He explained that the priorities of the CWMD include establishing a safe and collaborative work environment, ensuring risk-based assessment across a wide variety of threats, and strengthening critical partnerships. Similarly, the CWMD has accomplished several impressive goals such as: strengthening flagship biodefense programs, expanding the Department of Homeland Security’s Secure the Cities Program, reinvigorating the Department Homeland Security’s Food and Agriculture Defense Program, providing analysis and extending cooperative efforts to combat the COVID-19 Pandemic, and improving employee morale. These priorities and accomplishments symbolize that the CWMD has made significant strides with regards to addressing the stigmatizing internal issues that have plagued the success of its mission. Director of Homeland Security and Justice for the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), the honorable Mr. Christopher Currie, reaffirmed the troubling issues that have provided unique challenges with regards to nature of WMD and the CWMD. The issues of low morale and strong internal conflict can be seen most notably with the continued devastation caused by the COVID-19 Pandemic and the fact that cooperation between other departments like the Department of Defense (DoD) has remained poorly integrated. In this sense, it is mission critical that the CWMD continue to work with its employees to improve morale and provide for the better integration of programs among similar agencies and an effective platform for the protection of the homeland against WMD.

During the questioning period, a great many points were raised as to the true effectiveness of the CWMD and its current cooperative status with other public and private actors. The witnesses explained that the link from federal policy to state and local policies is becoming stronger, especially after the incorporation of the well-founded recommendations of the GAO and the inspector general (IG). Moreover, Director Currie explained that reorganization of a government office provides the risk of new problems without a clear understanding and motive as to the necessity of the changes. Accordingly, it would be potentially devastating if the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) were to completely reorganize the department and leave the critical duty of monitoring for WMD in a compromised state.

There were also a number of questions regarding the troubling level of morale at the CWMD, especially with regards to the stigmatizing effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic. In order to increase morale, the CWMD has kept their employees safe, informed, and mission ready throughout these troubling times and has seen success as overall morale has continued to increase. These sudden changes could not come at a better time because when morale is low there is often responses about not wanting to accomplish jobs, but people at the CWMD remain dedicated to the mission and have been very responsive to the necessary changes. In sum, while the CWMD has made significant strides toward development, there are a great number of tasks remaining before it in its continued pursuit to provide an effective system for the important role of protecting the homeland from the devastating threat posed by the wide variety of WMD.

Topics: WMD Defense, Weapons of Mass Destruction

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