The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is proposing to Congress that it be authorized to restructure within one office many of the activities it does in the chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosives (CBRNE) detection space under the leadership of a new assistant secretary position.

The DHS CBRNE office would bring together the staff, functions and responsibilities of the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO) and Office of Health Affairs (OHA), which would comprise the bulk of the organization, the Office of Bombing Prevention (OBP), and smaller elements of the Science and Technology (S&T) Directorate, and the Offices of Policy, and Operations Coordination and Planning.

Several DHS officials on Tuesday told a joint subcommittee of the House Homeland Security Committee that there are no anticipated costs or savings associated with the proposed reorganization, which was agreed to by Deputy Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on June 17.

The new CBRNE office “would be responsible for coordinating and maintaining department-wide CBRNE-related strategy, policy, situational awareness, threat and risk assessments, contingency planning, operational requirements, acquisition formulation and oversight and preparedness,” the DHS officials said in a joint statement. The officials testifying were Kathryn Brinsfield, assistant secretary of OHA and chief medical officer, Reginald Brothers, under secretary of S&T, and Huban Gowadia, director of DNDO.

Dr. Reginald Brothers, Under Secretary for Science and Technology, DHS
Dr. Reginald Brothers, Under Secretary for Science and Technology, DHS. The S&T office would retain its core responsibilities for research and development under the proposed creation of a new CBRNE office within DHS.

“The CBRNE office will be an office that can foster stronger coordination between OHA’s chemical, biological and health programs, DNDO’s radiological and nuclear focus programs, and the Office for Bombing Prevention’s work,” Brinsfield told the panel in her opening comments. “By bringing together our offices into this new organization, we will be able to leverage our existing detection capabilities, protocols and expertise to help facilitate coordinated federal, state and local detection, response and recovery.”

Brinsfield also said the new office will “elevate the mission space as a whole,” adding that it will be a “mission support office” by enabling other organizations to be successful in their missions.

The original impetus for the realignment stemmed from a congressional directive as part of the FY ’13 DHS Appropriations Act that led in August 2013 to an internal recommendation to then DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano to consolidate the CBRN mission support area. But given Napolitano’s planned departure from DHS shortly thereafter, the proposal languished until current DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson announced his Unity of Effort initiative in April 2014, causing the department to revisit the realignment review.

Under the recommended realignment, DNDO and OHA would remain intact within the new office, reporting to the new assistant secretary. DNDO has responsibility for research, development and acquisition of radiological and nuclear detection systems. The agency provides these systems to other DHS components such as Customs and Border Protection and the Coast Guard, which have operational missions requiring the detection equipment.

OHA is responsible for procuring and maintaining the national BioWatch system, which is focused on the detection of potential biological attacks in major urban areas of the United States, and provides health and medical advice to department leadership and components, and builds national resilience against health incidents.

The elements of S&T that would belong to the CBRNE office deal with chemical, biological, and integrated risk assessment but the core research and development functions of the S&T branch would not be transferred.

Reginald Brothers, the DHS under secretary for S&T, told the House panel that S&T is retaining its R&D responsibilities separate from the CBRNE office even though DNDO would bring its R&D functions into the new office. He said the approaches to R&D represent different models that can both work.

Huban Gowadia, the director of DNDO, said she wants the maintain DNDO’s R&D functions because of the “end-to-end” capabilities for the “technically challenging” mission of radiation and nuclear detection. “Every piece along the way needs strong technical input and in this day of hard fiscal times we can little afford the redundancy of recreating technical expertise in multiple parts of the department.”

“Both models can co-exist and both models have shown themselves effective,” Brothers said, referring to the end-to-end model at DNDO, and the interdisciplinary approach that S&T takes.

Brinsfield, the OHA chief, told the panel that “We see our role in the chem and bio space as setting the requirements and working with the interagency state and local partners to set those requirements and let the R&D be done in a component such as S&T.”

In addition to most of S&T’s CBRNE responsibilities not moving to the new office, Rep. Donald Payne (D-N.J.), said that related parts of the National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD), and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, would not be transferring. OBP is part of NPPD.