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tv   Asst. DHS Secretary Testifies on Weapons of Mass Destruction  CSPAN  July 16, 2021 10:03am-11:15am EDT

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host: the first caller in the segment. caller: yes. i would suggest, the problem is, the number of intercity people that you will get a job for is really small. for him to advocate a needle in the haystack is the answer, i would say it is not the answer. i'm really happy with what biden is doing, helping more people. host: that is steve in grand rapids, michigan. steve will be our last caller for today's washington journal. we are getting ready to go over to the house homeland security committee. the acting assistant of homeland security secretary testifying about the issue of weapons of mass destruction.
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that hearing was set to begin at 10:00 a.m. should not be too long before that starts, but we will take you there now. we will see you back here tomorrow morning at 10:00 eastern -- 7:00 eastern, 4:00 pacific. >> the chair is authorized to declare the subcommittee in recess at any point. we are here today to discuss the state of the united states department of homeland security countering weapons of mass destruction office. this september marks the 20th anniversary of the worst terrorist attack u.s. soil. since that time, there have been general agreement that we as a nation must be prepared to address terrorism and attacks on our country regardless of the mode of attack. this means being prepared for low probability, high consequence attacks involving
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chemicals, biological, radiological, or nuclear materials. as we emerge from an extreme the tragic year where covid-19 took the lives of over 600,000 americans, it does not take a lot of imagination to envision the damage that a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear attack could do to our country. in addition to the immediate health and safety consequences, such an attack could affect our critical infrastructure and destabilize large swaths of the country. for its part, dhs, it falls to the office to not only prevent such an attack but also partner with domestic and international partners to safeguard the u.s. against security attacks. unfortunately, since cwmd was authorized in 2018, it has faced significant challenges and persistent problems some of which predate the offices actual
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establishment that have undermined the office's ability to successfully repel it's very vital mission. challenges were not unforeseen. in august 2019, the comptroller general cautioned, 2-years prior to the act to consolidate a new cwmd office, that dhs quote was "did not access potential problems that could result from consolidation." although the cwmd workforce has performed laudable activities during the pandemic, taking such actions as issuing guidance, reforming vital surveillance and leading efforts to vaccinate the dhs workforce, numerous governmental and nongovernmental reports indicate there are significant structural and workforce morale issues within cwmd. cwmd is at a crossroads. at this time there are a number
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of proposals to spin off major portions of the office, and there is a fair bit of skepticism that the organization will have adequate resources to deliver the promise of their most prominent and consequential detection programs. for instance, dhs continues to struggle to deliver vital detection capability that can effectively deploy in urban and other high-risk areas. in 2003, dhs began installing their samplers at street level and atop buildings in cities across the country to detect deadly biological attacks. but that program never quite delivered the situational awareness that local responders needed. so dhs shifted gears to a bio detection for the 21st century bd21 program. that program is struggling, too.
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a report issued by the comptroller general found program faces technical challenges due to inherent limitations and uncertainties with combining technologies for use in bio detection. a program was supposed to detect nuclear and other threats in areas. the trump administration sowed confusion and uncertainty among city officials participating in the program, according to the comptroller general, when the den leader of cwmd communicated to stakeholders that dhs wanted to reduce its dissipation -- participation and let other federal agencies play a larger role. in 2019, there was reporting the trump administration had quietly dismantled or cut that programs such as cwmd's program that carried out dozens of drills and assessments around the country each year to help federal,
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state, and local officials detect potential threats such as improvised nuclear devices concealed in a suitcase, or a cargo ship carrying a dirty bomb, as well as the operations report directorate, which helped to lead up to 28 related training exercises each year for states and local authorities. some of the challenges cwmd faces today are a byproduct in which of the way cwmd was formed by the trump administration. other challenges are intrinsic in its mission. given all of these challenges, dhs leadership will have to prioritize improvement to cwmd in order to enhance the department's program. this subcommittee stands ready to assist cwmd and the department in their efforts to improve our nation's ability to protect the homeland against weapons of mass destruction.
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i, along with members of the subcommittee, are grateful for the participation of our witness participating today, acting secretary of cwmd, and christopher curry, director of the homeland and justice division within gao. we look forward to your testimony. the chair now recognizes the ranking member of the subcommittee, the gentlewoman from florida, for an opening statement. >> thank you, madam chairwoman. a pleasure to see everyone here today. thank you to our witnesses. in less than two months, our nation but collectively more the 20 anniversary of the september 11 attacks. following those attacks, the department of home and security was created to combat threats posed by al qaeda and other extremism terrorist groups. in the last 20 years, the threat landscape has changed dramatically. groups have long deployed to deploy radiological and nuclear
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materials as part of their attacks. in 2001, anthrax attacks highlighted the grim reality of a bioweapon. the powder was delivered through the mail, killing five people, making ill 17, and shutting down much of the capitol complex. in 2017, the australian government unveiled a plan by isis to release toxic gas in a public space. even now, when we are looking at the downslope of covid-19, questions have been raised as to the origins of a virus that has crippled not just the u.s. but the entire world, and has cost more than 600,000 american lives. it is imperative that we stand ready to counter these types of threats. countering weapons of mass destruction office was authorized in 2019 to elevate and streamline efforts to prevent terrorism using weapons of mass destruction. unfortunately, cwmd has had its
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fair share of growing pains. reporting in 2019 indicated that the cwmd office scaled back or eliminated programs put in place to help protect the united states. subject matter experts were removed from their areas of expertise, risk assessments were halted, and training exercises aimed at helping officials were minimalized. similarly, gao issued several reports highlighting the many shortfalls that the office has encountered its various programs. i'm happy that we are here to hear from them today. for example, gao recently found cwmd had taken little action on assessing and working with cities participating in securing the cities program on sustaining their detection capabilities. securing the cities aimed at reducing the risk of a successful deployment of a radiological or nuclear weapon against major metropolitan areas
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within the united states without analyzing risks and working with cities to reduce the risk, detection capabilities across the city can and will deteriorate. gao and dhs offices of inspector general's have supported the long-standing challenges that the cwmd has faced with regard to its bio detection technologies and buy watch programs. the system intended to detect agents and provide early-morning in the event of a biological attack. recently in march, the oig reported the system monitors and detections of less than 50% of the biological agents known to be threats were because bio watch had not updated its detection capabilities with their threat assessment results. last year, dhs' report said cwmd had "limited awareness of
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dhs and their ongoing efforts and cannot ensure it is adequately prepared to respond to a terrorist attack against the nation's food, agriculture, or veterinary systems." considering the shortages we have faced this year and last year due to the pandemic, i cannot imagine the consequences if our food and ultralow systems were attacked. and i would be remiss if i did not mention the low morale cwmd has faced since the offices formation. in 2019, the office was ranked dead last amongst the agencies in the partnership for public service best places to work rankings. in 2020, while the office mates like progress, it ranked 403 out of 411 agencies. a dedicated and motivated workforce is so important for the success of this office and these programs that maintain our nation's readiness to detect,
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deter, and were a terrorist attack. as i have highlighted, countering weapons of mass destruction's office has hit many roadblocks since its creation. i am hopeful, as is the rest of the members of the committee, that this hearing will bring to light the underlying issues that have plagued the cwmd's success and that we may have a fruitful and candid discussion that puts us on a positive path forward. i think chairwoman demings for holding this hearing and i look forward to hearing from the witnesses today. i yield back. rep. demings: i think the ranking member for her statement. members are also reminded that the committee will operate according to the guidelines laid out by the chairman and ranking member in the february 3 colloquy regarding remote procedures. without objection, members not on the subcommittee shall be permitted to sit and question the witnesses. the chair now recognizes the chairman of the full committee, the gentleman from mississippi,
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mr. thompson i'm up opening statement. -- for an opening statement. is chairman thompson on? is the ranking member on? ok. we will move forward. if mr. thompson joins us, we will go back to him. i welcome our panel of witnesses. the first witness is gary. he served as the acting assistant for terry for the u.s. department of homeland security countering weapons of mass destruction office. he previously served as the acting assistant secretary of cwmd from october 2019 to july
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of 2020. prior to his role within cwmd, he assumed the duties of the u.s. coast guard deputy commandant formation support deputy, personnel readiness in 2018, and has experienced working within the transportation security administration. he has also served as an active duty coast guard officer for more than 20 years and the subcommittee appreciates him for his service. mr. rasicot, thank you for joining us today. our second witness is chris for curry. he served as the director of homeland and justice division within the u.s. government accountability office. in his role, mr. curry leads gao's investigative work on emergency management, disaster response and recovery, and management of the department of homeland security. mr. curry began his time with gao in 2002.
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mr. curry, thank you so much for joining us as well. without objection, the witnesses. will be inserted in the record. i now give each witness the opportunity to summarize their statement for five minutes, beginning with acting assistant secretary rasicot. >> chairwoman demings, ranking members, distant wish members of the subcommittee, thank you for inviting me to speak. i appreciate the opportunity to discuss the department of homeland security's cwmd and our efforts to safeguard the nation from chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and other health threats. i would like to think the committee and its members for their ongoing support of the cwmd office, specifically representative pain who was so helpful in getting our authorization bill passed. in accordance with the cwmd act of 2018, cwmd is the hub of the
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departments health security activity, providing coordination, strategy and policy guidance, intelligence analysis, operations support, and developing and applying technologies to support operational partners. the president's budget request 427 million dollars in fy 22 two support 309 federal staff and the program is critical to the cwmd mission. i've had the religion of leading this office twice, most recently since january 2021. my priorities for this office have been, one, to establish a safe, collaborative and productive work environment. two, to ensure risk-based mission capability across the broad spectrum of threats. three, to strengthen both our critical partnerships and support to dhs operating components and our full range of federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial partners. over the past two years, we have made notable progress in strengthening our programs with
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invaluable input from our colleagues in congress, government account ability office, and the office of the inspector general. as well as many first responder and other operational organizations we support. recent mission accomplishments include strengthening cwmd flagship bio defense programs including near-term actions with biowatch, a formal recapitalization acquisition program known as bd21. expanding the cds program -- city program. reinvigorating the food and agricultural and veterinary defense program. responding to the covid-19 pandemic through bio surveillance and supporting cdc in a plummeting public health actions. strengthening the cwmd coordination role to a three-part series of exercises that included over 300 dhs federal, state, and local participants over the past
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several months. dhs chief medical officer led the operation vaccinate our workforce, which has vaccinated more than 75,000 frontline mission-critical and dhs employees. finally, we have focused extensively on improving employee morale. cwmd established an employee engagement team to empower staff at all levels to provide input and share ownership in the organization's strategic decision-making process. throughout the pandemic we have conducted over 70 weekly virtual town halls with an average of more than 250 staff participating. additionally, i have personally held numerous town halls and engage the workforce at multiple levels. these and other actions have played a significant role in cwmd being reflected as one of dhs' most improved components in the overall rankings of the recently released partnership or
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public services best places to work in the federal government. the creation of cwmd through the act of 2018 elevated and streamlined the ability of dhs to successfully resource and execute this critical mission. but as with any new organization, there is room for refinement and improvement. we plan to work closely with the members of the subcommittee as we strive to improve the cwmd office. on behalf of the cwmd staff who work tirelessly to keep the american people safe, i look forward to working with each one of you on the continued authorization of our office. finally, i am humbled to be here representing this office and the department of homeland security. to me, this hearing is the federal government at work, just like we all learned in school as kids. growing up, i didn't think i could imagine i would be afforded such a privilege, so thank you. i look forward to your questions. rep. demings: thank you so much
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for your testimony. i now recognize director curry to summarize his statement, for five minutes. >> thank you very much, chairwoman demings, ranking member cammack, chairman thompson, members of the subcommittee. i appreciate the chance to be here to discuss our past work and ongoing work on the countering weapons of mass destruction at dhs. i don't think i could've set up the importance of this topic any better than you did, chairwoman, ranking member in their opening statements. cwmd faces an incredibly difficult mission. chemical, biological, nuclear, and really logical threats are extremely unique challenges. unlike cyber threats, mass shootings, disasters, border apprehensions, drug smuggling, other more daily occurrences dhs faces, wmd threats are not as routine or perceived as more likely, as you said in your opening.
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has to compete with -- cwmd has to compete with other agencies dealing with these daily events. however, the covid-19 pandemic showed us biological and other threats like this, while not routine can create catastrophic and society changing impacts. it also showed that pandemics are not just a public health issue but a national security issue requiring a huge role for dhs. that is what happened. our work has identified a number of challenges across cwmd's mission. one major challenge they face right now is both addressing many of the programmatic challenges that were mentioned in the opening, while at the same time working to better define its role and transform itself. however, this shows what we have seen for decades and looking for government programs. mission results cannot be separated from organizational health. employee morale, and you cannot
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have one without the other. in the bio defense area since 2012, we have reported on challenges and implement an biowatch, the system designed to detect an airborne attack. we reported on challenges in the effort to upgrade and replace biowatch, the third effort to do so, which is called bd21. we found bd21 faces challenges such as inherent limitations in the available technology and uncertainties with combining technologies for use in the domestic environment, places like train stations, sporting arenas, things like that. avoiding and reducing false alarms is still a difficult technical challenge that has to be overcome, if dhs is to quickly detect bio threats in these environments. i also think it shows how hard it is to deploy technologies in our homeland versus overseas, in
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the war fighter or military environments. we have also found cwmd has struggled to develop an effective surveillance system to detect and share information on bio threats. we reported the dhs national integration center has struggled to fulfill its mandate and provide value to partners. in the chemical security area, we reported dhs had not fully integrated and coordinated its chemical defense programs and activities across all components. we recommended dhs develop a strategy and implementation plan. the good news is, one has been completed, and an implementation plan is to be completed in the next couple of months. we have also identified challenges related to cwmd's nuclear and radiological efforts. we found challenges in their securing the cities program, which were spelled out in the opening. this seeks to help cities detect and deter nuclear terrorism.
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we reported they didn't fully track programs spending and performance and have not addressed challenges to sustaining the program at the local level, and recommended that they do so. i know they have made progress in this area but there is still more to be made. it is also important to note, because dhs seeks to expand the program in the 2022 budget. i think it is the right question for today, what do we do moving forward to help this organization be successful? in addition to the recommendations we have made, there are actions that can be taken to address morale and the other challenges. four years ago, we testify to the same committee as dhs was first considering this reorganization. we stand by the same recommendations we made at the time. cwmd has continued to implant best practices from past successful transformations in government. for example, focusing on efforts to better define its mission and focus on what it does best,
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communicate with internal and external stakeholders, and involve employees in all of the efforts. this concludes my statement. i look forward to the discussion and questions. rep. demings: thank you for your testimony. thank you to both of you for your testimony. i will remind the subcommittee that we will each have five minutes for questions. i will now recognize myself for questions. as you all know, both of our witnesses today, the mission of cwmd is to lead dhs efforts and coordinate with federal, state, local, tribal, territorial, and international partners to safeguard the united states against chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear threats. however, as we have already talked about, the relatively new office has struggled to manage its responsibilities with bio detection being one of the most prominent examples of the
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office's struggles. previous leadership issues within cwmd has led to, as we have already mentioned, to low employee morale and high attrition rates. assistant secretary, cwmd has only been authorized for two and a half years. in that short time, the office has already sought to spin off its responsibilities including the national technical nuclear forensic program, and the office of the chief medical officer. what is your vision for cwmd? how will you work to keep the office intact? gary: thank you for the question. my vision is very much aligned with the cwmd act. we are the hubbub coordination, policy, operational support, deployment of technologies for this critical mission throughout dhs. and honestly, throughout parts of the federal government.
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we are the link from national policy to state and locals, through our program such as securing the cities and biowatch, and other programs we have exceptional reach down to the local level. it is my vision that as we mature these programs -- and i want to say, we are taking into account all of the gao recommendations, all of the ig recommendations, and we are trying as best as possible to incorporate them as we move forward. i look forward to discussing several of the questions on the very specific programs. i'm not sure that is where we are going on this question, but i look forward to those, securing the cities, biowatch, bd21, as well as giving you a debrief on where we are with employee morale. rep. demings: we will have an opportunity to discuss those, thank you. director currie, there are currently many directives to organize cwmd, including moving
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the chief medical officer to the office of the secretary and spinning off the nuclear operation to the energy department, moving policy officials to dhs's policy office. given cwmd is a young organization and has a diverse range of significant challenges, how should we be thinking about reorganization? christopher: the first thing i would say is that moving deck chairs around is often something looked to when a problem is perceived. the challenge is, it is understandable the specific action to take, but that does not always solve the problem. as we have seen with cwmd's reorganization, often times can create additional problems. they have to go through a transformation effort which can often take multiple years. when that happens, the focus on the internal transformation can
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take away from some of the mission responsibilities they have outside, some of the services they provide can decline. we are not for or against those changes. but i think it cannot be looked at as the solution. the key with some of these offices -- let's take the cmo, for example. if you are going to move it, there has to be a clear understanding of why you are moving it to a different place, and it has to be clear what the authorities of that office are going to do. or else it will be, frankly, another move. rep. demings: assistant secretary, what would your response be to director currie's answer, thoughts on reorganization? gary: on the cmo side, the secretary is looking across the organization to pages that are necessary. providing some options regarding the correct placement of the
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chief medical officer. we have learned a lot in the last year. it really highlighted the public, health, and medical aspects of dhs. the review is warranted. i tell staff all the time, we have to reserve the right to learn. as we learn more things, we may act differently. we have no decisions being taken on the cmo. if i could, if i could adjust the nuclear forensics piece, we are required to do by law. i chair the nuclear forensics executive committee. we just had a meeting on may 13. the department of energy does the primary operational work. we don't have boots on the ground doing forensic tests, that is energy. through a construct, we were funding most of the r&d for those labs. i think it is a good leadership practice to put the funding
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decisions, the funding leadership, closest to what is being funded and the operational piece. the interagency suggested that we move the actual funding and direction of r&d for the deo to -- doe to doe. our role in coordinating nuclear forensics for the nation remains intact. like i said, i just chair the nuclear forensics executive committee. i agree with director currie, you don't change for changes sake. there is an old saying in government, when in doubt, reorganize. that is not what we are doing. we are learning as we move along. we have to take advantage of what we have learned. rep. demings: thank you so much, assistant secretary. the chair recognizes the ranking member, the gentlewoman from florida, ms. cammack, for five
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minutes. rep. cammack: thank you, madam chair. again, thank you to our witnesses for appearing today. i know we will cover a lot today, specifically about the gao report. i'm going to touch briefly about it and then move on. july 2020, the office of inspector general published a report finding cwmd had not carried out a program to meet securing our agriculture food act requirements, as noted in your testimony. in fy 20, cwmd reestablished a formal food agriculture veterinary defense program to meet the standards and requirements. can you describe in detail exactly how cwmd is meeting the requirements of this law? were additional staff requested for this program or the 2022 budget request, and if not, why? gary: november 2019, we
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reestablished the program within cwmd. we brought some staff over, began leveraging some internal resources to do that. our accomplishments thus far, we put together a cooperative agreement to direct their research on the food ag program. it significantly enhanced that research and develop it work. we have increased the budget in fy 19. it was 800,000. 21, 2 $.4 million. 2022, requesting another $2.7 million to take it to $5.1 million. we have pushed out to agriculture and fda, we meet with them all the time, those are our primary partners in defending nation from a high consequence event in the food acceptor -- ag sector.
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i feel like we have been in a full-scale exercise over the past year on food ag. we have read all about that. what we did is we put together an industry listing session, roundtable the first week of june where we brought in all the major industry leaders using our format for industry engagement through the agricultural sector, and really tried to capture the lessons learned that they had over the last year in the covid response, to see how we can do things better. as we adjust policy based on that, we want to make sure we have industry input on that, because they are living on the front lines. that is where we are heading, ma'am. rep. cammack: as a follow-up, we had a conversation a couple of days ago, and i'm glad to hear about that. i would love to get a workup of some of the findings you have
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had from some of those discussions. our team can follow up with yours on that. in the interest of time, i want to jump to the strategy. the mission of the office is to enable operational partners to prevent weapons of mass destruction use against the homeland. this strategy notes its ability to provide technical assistance to the state, local, tribal, and territorial front line operators is a crucial aspect of homeland security. my own sheriffs don't know about this office. they don't know it exists. how are we executing on this strategy? what is the plan to engage with local law enforcement? gary: i will offer that we probably have not given -- as you have noted given some of the things, have not done our state and local outreach outside of
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those jurisdictions already participating in our programs. but it is my intention, over the next year, to reach out to the chiefs of police, all the right organizations to let them know what we are offering, what capabilities we can bring to them. we were big players in the interagency board, state and local organizations. we funded that organization in the past. we continue to work with them. i look forward to any opportunity to let state and locals know what we are doing. we are pushing people out in the field. i have folks in our regional medical operations centers to help with public health in five locations across the country. we have got biowatch in 30 jurisdictions across the country. we just expanded securing the cities to 13 major metropolitan
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areas across the country. we are out there and we will do a better job in letting people know. ranking member, you hit the nail on the head. if the people don't know what they are doing, how can they ask? i am with you. we will do a better job in getting the word out. rep. cammack: i know my time has expired, but i'm looking forward to working with you. as i speak to you, i am sitting here at mcallen, texas at the border. six of my shares are with national guard border patrol, pulling people out of the river. my fear is that one day somebody will bring a dirty bomb across the border, and that is something we are not prepared for. local sheriffs are seeing this firsthand and they don't even know this office exists. i look forward to helping you get the word out about what you are doing for training, to make sure our frontline guys and gals have the best resources available. with that, i yelled back.
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-- yield back. rep. demings: the chair will not recognize other members for questions they may want to ask witnesses. i will recognize in order of seniority, alternating between majority and minority. members are reminded to unm ute themselves when recognize for questioning. the chair recognizes the gentleman from new jersey, mr. payne. rep. payne: it is good to be with you again for this very timely hearing. this is a follow-up for me from a hearing that i had in october of 2019 on bio defense. at the hearing, i was attempting to get answers from stakeholders
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with relation to their conversation that was going on with cwmd. here we still are, 2, 3 years later. so, this is kind of a follow-up for me. mr. rasicot, as i stated, october 2019, the subcommittee heard testimony on the nation preparedness for bioterrorism. during the hearing, the witness spoke about cwmd's lack of coordination and communication with state, local, tribal, and territorial, as the ranking member mentioned, to improve its programs. cwmd must engage with sltt partners. please describe the steps cwmd is taking to increase the amount of engagement with sltt, and how
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cwmd staff are able to successfully partner with local governments? gary: thank you for the question, congressman. good to see you again. i came in later, in october, i know that we have met in your office several times. i heard you loud and clear on that. it is especially true in the bd21 arena where initially we were working the program, there were a lot of -- the basement in the vermont building i occupy. i went up to new york city, met with everyone up there. they were one of the primary places where we were doing demonstration work. heard what they were saying. the team has been out too many jurisdictions, seeking state and local input as to what our operational requirements should look like, what our concept of operations should look like.
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we need to make sure this works for the state and local. as you know, the whole idea behind bd21 is to try and reduce the time it takes for a detection to be recognized, so that if it is an actual detection of an agent, we can quickly get to the medical countermeasures. that parameter is different in every city. we have to be out there talking to folks. my team has been out there, they have held listening sessions. we have talked to our academic folks, we are working closely with the labs to understand what is technically feasible. it is not in anyone's interest for me to buy some that doesn't work. i get it. rep. payne: thank you for that. one question, are we still using that 1950's technology for biowatch? gary: the sensors are there, they are proven and reliable. the problem is, we need to expand, and we are working with
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the national lab, based on the gao report, inspector general's report, to see how we can expand the number of agents. i look forward to that report in the fall. also working with the fbi, dhs, cdc, seeking their input. we are looking to improve that system. we also look to -- are we in the right places to provide the most protection to the american public? we are taking some actions here, sir. rep. payne: let me go quickly to mr. currie. i feel like you should be here to say, throughout this whole process, i told you before. it seems like some of the same issues still are persisting. the nuclear detection
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architecture is a framework that was developed to protect, analyze, report nuclear and other radioactive materials. based on your work reviewing cwmd's practice, do you believe cwmd is properly prioritizing its responsibilities, and if not, why? please explain the implications for your dereliction -- for the dereliction. christopher: thank you for the question. it has been sometimes as we have issued a full-scale report on that. one of the interesting thing that has happened with the reorganization is the domestic nuclear detection office was merged into cwmd, combined with other offices. as you know, dndo's office was high-performing, the office rail was high.
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i think the architecture was a real success in government in terms of their coordination with other federal agencies. it was a very clear mission space. one of the things we have seen happen since the reorganization is there are some questions from partners and stakeholders about some of the things that were happening under that architecture. for example, some of the threat and risk assessments that cwmd anddnod were doing to detect gas in that architecture, which is critical for components like cbp and the coast guard to understand as they monitor ports of entry, things like that. that is definitely an area where there are questions about what cwmd's role will be moving forward. rep. payne: thank you. madam chair, thank you for indulging me. i yield back. rep. demings: the judgment yields back. the chairwoman recognizes the representative from iowa, ms.
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meeks. >> thank you so much, chairwoman demings, representative cammack. gentlemen, please don't interpret my questions as being derogatory in any way. they come from a position just hoping, like you, that we can do the best for our homeland. i am a physician, i'm the former director of the iowa department of public health, also a 24-year military veteran. having been the director of a state agency and in the data -- the military, i know how you are struggling for your funding, validating the work you do, even when often times the workload makes it difficult to coordinate and justify. also in the military that participated in many abcs,
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tabletop drills, actual drills for warnings. i am fully understanding, comprehending -- it is extraordinarily difficult. the task placed upon you is monumental. as i read the reports and understand the failures and criticisms, i am also very cognizant of the fact that it is so hard to detect. this question comes out of that. our homeland, not only our homeland, but the entire world, has just faced the biggest threat to its security through covid-19. we have asked repeatedly for an investigation into the origins of covid-19. as a scientist, the scientific evidence to me indicates that this came from a laboratory, the wuhan institute of virology, in
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all likelihood, a leak. the reason it's important to -- we need to know for national security, as you indicated, mr. currie. we need to sponsor public health. we need an international community that has standards for disclosure, transparency, laboratory security, what type of research can go on in laboratories, and gain a bunch of research. as representative cammack indicated earlier, her sheriff's don't know of your existence. as i indicated, my top concern, what kept me up at night was a virus or bacteria that would imitate from another country and invade the homeland. this was just after h1n1, after we had had --
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rep. demings: the gentlewoman appears to be having some connection -- to our witnesses, if you could proceed with responding. gary: madam chairwoman, i will go first. i will just offer that president biden has as the intelligence community to redouble its efforts as a look at the origins of covid-19, whether from an animal born transfer, accident at the wuhan lab. that work is ongoing and we look forward to the results. there is no denying the impact the covid-19 virus has had on the united states. we are all working hard to mitigate its impacts. i'm sorry if there were more questions but i could not hear. rep. miller-meeks: my apologies.
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i just want to know if, to you, it has the same importance it does to me. i think this is a critically important issue for national security and public health. i think there are valid things we need to ask of the international community. we as a nation can be the lead in that regard. gary: i would agree with everything you said, it's important to ask those questions. it is also important as we look at global health security to reinforce that system and strengthen that system. as you have heard, the administration and others have said, this disease is not over for anyone until it is over for everyone. rep. demings: director currie? christopher: thank you for the question. as a former director of public health, i can use a technical term as valence. surveillance -- term of
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surveillance. surveillance is critical. having surveillance systems work effectively -- rep. miller-meeks: mr. currie? christopher: yes, ma'am? rep. demings: proceed. christopher: i thought she was drunk to jump in. the area of surveillance is an area that we have been monitoring for a decade. we have a number of findings and recommendations on how we think dhs' role in the surveillance space could be strengthened or improved. rep. miller-meeks: per year report, -- your report, do you think bio surveillance should be moved to another agency, or do we need to reconsider what our expectations are? christopher: one challenge is there are so many difficult surveillance efforts across the agency. dhs, cdc, dod has surveillance
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efforts. i don't think these have been well integrated. dhs' role in the surveillance space has not been made clear or as well integrated. for example, dhs has struggled getting data and metrics it needs from cdc and local and state public health departments to provide surveillance information to the communities to provide a benefit. rep. miller-meeks: perhaps we need to help with the definition of those and with information sharing across agencies. i think my time is probably up. i thank the witnesses for their testimony. rep. demings: the gentlewoman yields back. thank you for your questioning. we are preparing for a second round of questions, so if members have additional questions, please stay with us. along those same lines, let's go back to rearranging those deck chairs, the pros and cons of that. we know there is much discussion
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about the location, where the chief medical officer is housed. dhs officials have transferred cmo to another unit within dhs. acting secretary -- assistant secretary, i would love to hear your thoughts on that particular position, as well as director currie. acting sec., we will start with you. gary: the cmo and i work closely every day, literally. i yield to the secretary. we are providing the options, we have to look at the structure of dhs, see if we are doing at the most impactful way. i would offer that the collaboration where he and i worked together -- i have never met a more innovative doctor,
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the work he is doing, and i thought that he brings has been refreshing. we are moving forward on a number of programs under his leadership. we went from0 to 60 after he got here, ended up vaccinating 75,000 of our front-line workforce so they could perform their duties without the threat of catching the covid virus. if i could, i was hoping i could take a step back from the bio surveillance piece, offer something on that. rep. demings: if you could hold off for just a second. director currie, i would love to hear your thoughts on moving the position of cmo to another unit within dhs. christopher: i don't have a strong position either way. i think the role of the cmo in the last year and a half has shown to be tremendous.
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and it is not just providing bio defense expertise and support to the leadership of the department. dhs has 240,000 employees, many of which are on the front lines touching the public. there role -- their role has always been to address the health and safety of the dhs workforce, but it's incredible what they have had to do to make sure we don't have a reduction because of the covid-19 pandemic. wherever it is, i think it is critical that it's role these solidified and strengthened, given their role. rep. demings: thank you, director, acting secretary. gary: i just want to comment on the national bio integration center. i think this is the subject of a 2015 report, gao report. they have just jumped all over those recommendations.
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we expanded our reach into the department of veterans affairs, interior with wildlife, tracking animal born illnesses that may transmit to humans. over covid-19, they put out one of the first or sports -- reports, december 2019, on a pneumonia-like virus emanating from wuhan. they are on the forefront of doing this stuff. honestly, their number of reports has gone up significantly over the last year. their leadership, the people that want to read, has gone up 30%. we are pushing this to clients asvaried as the northcom -- as varied as the northcom committed to various states and locals. we have picked up the game since 2015. the folks working in that shop are dedicated, they do the analysis, get the word out for people.
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i just want to update us from may that 2015 report. rep. demings: thank you so much. we are going to pause a minute and see if numbers have additional questions. any questions from the ranking member? from the gentleman from new jersey, mr. payne? the gentlewoman from iowa, ms. miller-meeks? ok. to both of you, we have already talked somewhat about employee morale.
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-- acting assistant doug -- secretary, you have been holding town halls to hear directly from the employee, but i would like to start with you first to find out, number 1 -- and i said before, you cannot motivate. it is my personal opinion that you cannot motivate people to feel better about their job, but you should create the environment that allows them to. i would just like to hear from you your thoughts on how did we first get into this predicament, with morale being so low. only four preset -- 40% of the workforce said they would represent the office is a good place to work. if you could speak more on these town halls and specific recommendations coming from the employees, and where do we go from here? act. sec. rasicot: thank you,
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madam chairwoman. most people know this is a merger of -- in the office of health affairs, two offices which probably had very different cultures. to bring things together, organizational behavior, as you tried to do these things, you are storming, warming, and then performing. we were forming in 2017-2018, and then the culture came together in december 2018. as people start to come together as an office, no one is in the office, so that was one of the underlying factors that probably complicated it. there was a lot of cultural issues to be worked through, and i'm not certain that the mission clarity was there in the beginning in this office. i was not here. i came in october 2019 after the
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420-420 rankings were announced. the whole listening -- what i did was hold listening sessions and listen to people. i didn't hold it like an office. we did it by sections of employees. we wet -- met with the scientists, the public health specialists. i asked, what do we need to do here? where -- where are the best and brightest employees at dhs? i would suggest at the government, the scientists, this specialists, operational specialists, they are all top-notch. what we have gotten done doesn't happen with a disgruntled workforce. we have put in standard operating procedures. all decisions are transparent. we have a great team and we are
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putting out a bulletin every week. my town halls are every week. i mission is to keep people safe, informed, and mission ready, in that order. it was important that we do that during covid-19, and we were one of the first offices to make sure everybody had what they needed. productivity stayed the same as i told you and the ranking member. i had to make a rule because our folks were working into the evening because we could cover that's how dedicated they are to the mission. it is my job to support that dedication. i'm back for my second term because that's what i want to do. i was asked to come back and i gladly came because they are mission-critical folks, the best and brightest, and they deserve the support we can give them. and i listen to everything they say. why would i not listen to the world's foremost physicists and
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biologists on how to confront today's threats? rep. demings: what can congress do to better support the men and women? act. sec. rasicot: we got some requests and the budget and we would appreciate your support, director currie talked about the gnda and the risk assessment. we are bringing that back, i think it is $5 million we are asking for, but i want to expand it. thedndo hit the nail on the head with that analysis, tracking human behavior from execution -- and measures like intervention and interdiction could stop that continuum of action. i want to expand that to cam and ioan so that's what -- expand that to chem and bio. that's one request, enhance our
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work in chemical. we have a bunch of requests asking for 300 billion -- $300 million in chem, and another $3.5 million in -- to keep up with the demand. i have asked for 2.2 million dollars to increase our exercise program. i want to be directly responsive to the state and locals asking for more exercise. $5 million, in securing the city because we offered some of the criticisms from 2018 and 2019, and we took those two heart. we are doing sustainment now. we heard the state locals. we were giving this fantastic equipment, but in smaller cities, it is tough to maintain, so we will start in 2022 giving them the money to sustain that
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equipment, 1.5 million dollars per city as they start and building to $2.5 million a year sustainment. we put in the cities implementation plan later than i wanted to be, but i wanted to solve the sustainment problem before we showed you how to document implementing the program. rep. demings: thank you. rector currie, if we could go back to employee morale, -- director currie, if we could go back to employee morale, 420-hort 420 -- 420-4 hundred 20 had to be like a punch in the face, so based on your perspective of how we got there, the acting secretary talked about the merger of the two departments, and the town halls and talking directly to the employees, i think is always a good thing to do, getting suggestions from them, but also how do we maintain and retain
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and go from here, your perspective, please. dir. currie: morale is such a complicated issue, and sometime there is a lag between when you get the results and what is going on in the organization. what we've seen and often -- what we've seen often times is when employee morale is low, employees don't feel like they are being heard and not supported. they will often get responses like, we don't think we are accomplishing our mission as good as we could. there are so many complicated things that go into it. on the positive front, morale scores have gone up in the last year. one question that has gone up as top leadership. the secretary has gotten a lot of credit for that. something has changed for the scores on that particular question, to change. everything i've heard about the efforts lines with what we've --
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aligns with what we've talked about, and they have communicated what is being done to communicate the challenges. as he said, these are some incredible folks, they work incredibly hard. sounds to me like they just want to support and recognition of those things moving forward. i am cautiously optimistic that maybe they are going in the right direction, and we've seen this in the past at dhs, by the way. the finance and technology director at dhs had some serious morale problems years ago, and they worked really hard to do some of these things, and now they're morale as some of the highest in the department. so it is possible to turn this around. rep. demings: this will be my final question, and director currie, we will start with you. i'd like to hear based on gao's reporting and the lead up to cw
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md, how confident are you in cem md's ability to fulfill -- cwmd 's ability to fulfill the mission and guard against threats? dir. currie: they are absolutely capable of performing their mission with the resources they have and are requesting. the cwv act of 2018 authorized the office -- one of the worst things that can happen is you have a mission and no authorization telling you what to do. the key will be on focusing in on the key responsibilities, and the things it does well and really communicating and drilling down into those issues. for example, one of their primary missions, is working with state and local partners and communicating with them. at the beginning of the transition, maybe that had slipped a little bit and some of
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the things they were doing were not being done quite as well. it sounds like there's going to be a lot more effort put into that, and that's a good thing. you also don't need to try to do more than you can do. with a budget of $400 million and 300 million people, there is only so much that can be done, so they need to focus on angst they are good at and candid -- focused on things they are good at and can achieve. rep. demings: acting sec., any comments from you? -- acting secretary, any comments? act. sec. rasicot: we appreciate your support and look for into dutch forward to con -- look forward to conversations. we are really starting to hit our stride. covid through -- brought us through that norming stage and
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we are going through. exercise we conducted, a series of three exercise across dhs. with the inter-agency one, we had the deputy assistant director, hhs, fbi, i gave the kickoff speech at 9:00 and there is 160 people on the screen. that's must-see tv. people are interested in this mission, and as we coordinate it and bring people back, that's what we are doing. i think that we -- i agree with director currie -- we have most of the resources we need and i look forward to your support on the fy 22 budget as we try to address some of the issues brought up in the hearing. i think we are on the right path. we are doing what we were asked to do in the cwmd act and look
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forward to keeping you updated. rep. demings: i would like to thank the witnesses for their testimony, and the members for their questions. the members of the subcommittee may have additional questions for the witnesses, and we ask that you respond expeditiously in writing to those questions. the chair reminds members that the committee record will remain open for 10 business days without objection. -- business days. without objection, the subcommittee stands adjourned. >> c-span is your unfiltered view of government, sponsored by these stations. >> charter has invested billions in infrastructure, upgrading technology, and powering opportunity in communities big and small. charter is connecting us. >> charter communications supports c-span as a public
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service, along with these other television providers, giving you a front row seat to democracy. today, senator jeanne shaheen, former ambassador ryan crocker, and others discussed having visas to afghan allies. live at 2:30 p.m. eastern on c-span, online at, or you can listen on the free c-span radio app. ♪ >> peter osnos has published hundreds of nonfiction books as the editor of -- he has written a memoir about himself. the national book review writes "osnos has not written a memoir so much as a report from the front -- make that many friends -- from the past couple we
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talked about vietnam and the soviet union among other things. >> on this episode of book notes plus, listen at or wherever you get your podcasts. ♪ show you president biden from yesterday talking about the enhanced child tax credit and the checks that started going out yesterday. [video clip] >> i believe this is a historic day in the sense that we continue to build an economy that respects and recognizes the dignity of working-class and middle-class families. it is historic and it is our effort to make another giant step towards ending child poverty in america. this is what i will be most proud of when my term is up.


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