Wednesday, June 16, 2010

HR 5498 Introduced

As I mentioned in my earlier blog on this week’s committee hearings a new WMD bill was introduced last week in the House. HR 5498, the WMD Prevention and Preparedness Act of 2010, was proposed by Rep. Pascrell (D, NJ) and a bipartisan collection of representatives from the House Homeland Security Committee. It was introduced with a good bit of publicity, accompanied by an information packet that included a summary, a detailed chart of provisions, and a section-by-section outline. The primary focus of the bill is to prevent terrorists from using a biological weapons against the United States, but there are a number of provisions that may be of interest to the chemical security community. General Provisions Affecting Chemical Security There are a number of provisions addressing all forms of weapons of mass destruction; chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear. These include developing intelligence collection and sharing capabilities within DHS (Section 2101), developing and sharing emergency response guidance (Section 2151), developing and deploying plume modeling techniques (Section 2152), and developing a communications plan to provide information to the public in the event of an attack (Section 210). The full spectrum of weapons of mass destruction is covered in wording of the requirements of these sections. Given the focus of the legislation, however, it is clearly expected that any efforts made by the Department in these areas will be primarily focused on biological weapons issues. Time Limits One of the things that is surprising in reading this proposed legislation is the very short time frames that DHS and other Cabinet agencies are given to complete some very complex development and deployment requirements. For example Sec 206 only gives DHS 90 days to “complete the development of the methods to rapidly screen travelers at ports of entry” for the detection of biological attacks. Given the scope of that requirement, the short time frame is ludicrous; that isn’t enough time to even identify the scope of the problem. Congress has a recent history of establishing short-time response requirements for the executive department. Setting time limits is an important management tool, but only if those time limits are enforced in some manner and if adequate resources are provided to meet those time limits. For example, this bill requires lots of new actions on the part of DHS, but at no point it does it provide new people or money to complete these requirements. This can only mean that Congress doesn’t intend for these programs to actually be implemented. Possibility for Action The House Homeland Security Committee is giving this bill high priority for action, holding its first hearing within a week of the bill’s introduction. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is ordered reported out of the Committee before the summer recess. The bill was, however, referred to five other committees, none of whom have publicly expressed any imperative to act on the legislation. I firmly expect that this will face the same fate as the similar Senate bill, S 2996; it will be ordered reported but no report will actually be filed before the pre-election recess this fall.

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