House committee approves bevy of homeland security bills

Legislation would impact port security, TWIC program and the nation's preparedness for WMD attack
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Friday, May 11, 2012

WASHINGTON—The House Committee on Homeland Security this week approved a group of bills that would impact, among other things, the country's preparedness for an attack by weapons of mass destruction, port security, and operation of the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) program.

"The four bills we consider today will improve homeland security programs and strengthen our nation's security," Rep. Peter King (R-NY), the committee's chairman, said in his opening remarks. "I urge their adoption."

The committee unanimously passed the "WMD Prevention and Preparedness Act of 2011," H.R. 2356, which implements many of the recommendations contained within the Graham/Talent WMD Commission's final report, released in December 2008.

This piece of legislation would direct the president to assign a member of the National Security Council as special assistant to the president for biodefense, who would coordinate federal biodefense policy, develop a national biodefense plan and a coordinated budget that assesses capability gaps and spending inefficiencies. The bill also requires the Department of Homeland Security to establish a national biosurveillance strategy; issue guidance on the recovery and clean-up from a chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear attack; and assess the viability of "rapidly screening incoming individuals at ports of entry for biological agents, pandemic influenza, and other infectious diseases;" among other things.

The committee also approved the "Public Transit Security and Local Law Enforcement Support Act," H.R. 3857, which would allow Transportation Security Grant Program funding to be used to sustain existing specialized operational teams, in addition to creating new teams as is currently allowed. "From 1997 to 2010, five out of the fifteen terrorist plots against public transportation were in New York," Rep. Robert Turner (R-NY), the bill's sponsor, said in the committee hearing. "With the ever increasing sophistication of these terrorists we must ensure that law enforcement has the equipment and manpower to keep our commuters safe. This bill will streamline the process to ensure that specialized patrol teams such as NYPD's TORCH [Transit Operational Response Canine Heavy Weapons] team have access to funding necessary to keep them operational."

Committee members also unanimously approved the "Gauging American Port Security Act," H.R. 4005, introduced by Rep. Janice Hahn (D-CA), which directs the DHS secretary to conduct a study and report to Congress on gaps in port security in the United States and a plan to address them.

Also by unanimous consent, the committee approved H.R. 3173, which directs the DHS secretary to reform the process for the enrollment, activation, issuance, and renewal of a TWIC to require, in total, not more than one in-person visit to a designated enrollment center. Currently, a person obtaining a TWIC must travel to the enrollment center for initial processing, and then again to pick up the card when it's ready.

These bills now go to the House for further debate and a vote.