Chairman Langevin’s Opening Statement at Fiscal Year 2021 Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Hearing

Feb 12, 2020 Issues: Armed Services, Budget

February 11, 2020

WASHINGTON – Congressman Jim Langevin (D-RI), chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Intelligence and Emerging Threats and Capabilities (IETC), delivered the following opening statement at the IETC hearing “Reviewing Department of Defense Strategy, Policy, and Programs for Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction for Fiscal Year 2021.” Video of the Chairman’s statement commences at 52:16: https://armedservices.house.gov/hearings?ID=24A3E9A4-15B3-4667-BB61-014F9B546ECA

“Welcome to today’s hearing on Reviewing Department of Defense Strategy, Policy, and Programs for Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction (CWMD). Before we get started, I want to introduce – and thank – the four witnesses before us for their contributions on this important issue:  Ms. Theresa Whelan, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Global Security in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy; The Honorable Al Shaffer, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition & Sustainment and the current Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Defense Programs; Vice Admiral Timothy Szymanski, the Deputy Commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command, now the Coordinating Authority for CWMD; and Mr. Vayl Oxford, Director of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency.

“Over the past few years, both Russia and North Korea have employed chemical weapon nerve agents. In Syria, pro-regime and ISIS forces used chemical weapons on civilian populations to achieve their tactical and strategic objectives. Advances in biotechnology, synthetic biology, and gene editing are rapidly changing the playing field to allow countries and individuals acting with nefarious intent – or even just by chance – to produce biological agents in a scope and scale not yet encountered. And adversaries are working on the development of hypersonic weapons to deliver warheads faster, possibly faster than our ability to counter them. All of these advances are exacerbating the complexity of the world’s WMD threats. Indeed, the current coronavirus outbreak and global panic underscores how important scientific research and preparedness across the interagency is for our national and economic security. 

“Our four witnesses hold positions that comprise the bulk of the Department’s assigned roles and responsibilities associated with aligning CWMD policy to strategy and programs; executing those programs; delivering current and future personal protective equipment and other capabilities to our warfighters; and eliminating our remaining U.S. stockpiles of lethal chemical agents.

“I am told that our witnesses have been directed by the Office of Management and Budget to not speak today to the FY21 President’s Budget Request – despite this hearing taking place after the budget was released yesterday. I am deeply disappointed by this directive, which violates longstanding precedent regarding Congressional oversight. We have much to oversee on policy, programs, and strategy, and that oversight will be limited without a full understanding of the FY21 budget request. I look forward to hearing about the Department’s activities to manage and counter the threat of a drastically morphing CWMD landscape.

“This year we tasked GAO to review the preparedness of U.S. forces to counter North Korean chemical and biological weapons on the Korean peninsula. GAO has already highlighted many unsettling issues. Most pressingly, we question whether U.S. Forces Korea planners have access to the relevant intelligence on North Korean chemical and biological weapons sites needed to effectively plan, --and if necessary, conduct—counter-WMD operations.

“I am deeply concerned that our preparedness for a significant state-level WMD event is wholly inadequate. We owe it to the men and women in uniform to ensure they are trained and equipped to successfully operate and perform in a contaminated environment. 

“In closing, there is much work to be done to strengthen CWMD policy, programs, and preparedness. This includes understanding the 2014 strategy in the context of today’s threat landscape, the budget request’s alignment to the current strategy, and how the Department’s strategy and end-states are consistent with a national level strategy and whole-of-government effort.”