The Department of Homeland Security office responsible for coordinating policies and purchasing equipment to counter weapons of mass destruction and related chemical and biological threats lost its focus on assessing risks from nuclear and radiological threats to the homeland but is bringing that back and plans to expand these efforts, the acting head of the agency said last Friday.
“We are bringing that back…and I want to expand it,” Gary Rasicot, acting assistant secretary for the Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction (CWMD) Office, told a House panel.
The Global Nuclear Detection Architecture was crafted by the former Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO) as a “framework” to help understand gaps and risks in the nation’s ability to prevent the use of radiological and nuclear devices in the homeland. This framework is used to identify technical and non-technical capabilities to address these gaps and risks and enable analysis and reporting on potential threat materials.
The lapse in attention to gaps and risks in the Global Nuclear Detection Architecture dates back to the 2018 merger of DNDO and the Office of Health Affairs to create the CWMD Office.
“The DNDO office was a very high-performing office, the morale was very high, I think the Global Nuclear Detection Architecture was a real success in the government in terms of their coordination with all the other federal agencies and it was a very clear mission space,” Chris Currie, the director of homeland security and justice at the Government Accountability Office, told the House Homeland Security Committee’s panel that oversees Emergency Preparedness, Response and Recovery. He testified with Rasicot during the virtual hearing.
However, since the creation of the CWMD Office, Currie said partners and stakeholders of the office such as the Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection have had “questions” about its role in things like threat risk assessments will be going forward.
Rasicot agreed that “DNDO really hit the nail on the head with that analysis. They basically tracked human behavior from aspiration to execution in support of a terrorist act.”
Now, Rasicot told the panel he wants to expand this framework to potential chemical and biological threats, which is why his agency is requesting more funding and people in this area for fiscal year 2022.
DHS recently expanded a radiological and nuclear threat detection program called Securing the Cities to Boston and New Orleans, bringing to 13 the number of major urban areas where the CWMD Office supports these efforts through the purchase of equipment, training and exercises. Rasicot said his office is now helping these cities sustain the equipment as well, which will begin being funded in the FY ’22 budget. Sustainment will begin at $1. 5 million per city and grow to $2.5 million per year over time, he said.