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Thursday, December 8, 2022

OIG Says DHS is Not Coordinating Efforts to Defend Food and Agriculture Systems Against Terrorism

The Office of Inspector General (OIG) at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) says the Department is not coordinating efforts to defend food, agriculture and veterinary systems against terrorism.

The United States’ food, agriculture, and veterinary systems are vulnerable to
threats of terrorism and other events that pose a high risk to homeland
security such as natural and unintentional introduction of diseases, pests, or
poisons. For example, evidence suggests terrorists have considered targeting
people by adding toxic chemicals and pathogens directly to the food supply.

Following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the U.S.
military found a list of pathogens in an Afghanistan cave that Al-Qaeda
planned to use as potential biological weapons to target humans and the food

The Securing Our Agriculture and Food Act (SAFA) requires that DHS’ Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office (CWMD) carry out a program to coordinate the Department’s efforts to defend the country’s food, agriculture, and veterinary systems against terrorism and other high-consequence events. According to SAFA, the program should provide oversight, lead policy initiatives, and coordinate with DHS components and Federal agencies. 

However, an OIG review found CWMD has not yet carried out a program to meet SAFA’s requirements. This occurred because CWMD believes it does not have clearly defined authority from the Secretary to carry out the requirements of SAFA. OIG also found that since its establishment in December 2017, CWMD has not prioritized SAFA requirements but instead has focused its resources on other mission areas. As a result, OIG says CWMD has limited awareness of DHS’ ongoing efforts and cannot ensure it is adequately prepared to respond to a terrorist attack against the Nation’s food, agriculture, or veterinary systems. 

To address the shortcomings, OIG made three recommendations to the Assistant Secretary of CWMD. First, coordinate with the DHS Secretary to reinforce the office’s authority to implement a coordinated program in accordance with SAFA. Second, reprioritize the food, agriculture, and veterinary defense mission within the Department to ensure adherence to requirements of SAFA. And finally, conduct a capability assessment to identify needs and gaps in DHS’ food, agriculture, and veterinary defense mission. OIG says the assessment should identify the necessary resources (staffing and budget) needed to fulfill the requirements of SAFA, including Homeland Security Presidential Directive-9 responsibilities. Based on the results of the assessment, OIG adds that the Assistant Secretary should develop an implementation plan for execution.

CWMD concurs with all three recommendations and has provided OIG with corrective action plans to address the recommendations. CWMD plans to announce reconstitution of Food, Agriculture, and Veterinary Defense and will work with the Science and Technology Directorate to develop a research and development (R&D) Strategic Plan to reprioritize and better align food and agriculture defense R&D across the Department. CWMD estimates a completion date of September 30, 2020 for this work. In addition, CWMD stated that the Food, Agriculture, and Veterinary Defense Division is developing an initial vision, mission, and roadmap to guide implementation efforts over the next year. The roadmap will include an external Food, Agriculture, and Veterinary Defense mission needs and capability gaps assessment. CWMD estimates a completion date of May 31, 2021 for this roadmap.

CWMD noted that since the audit fieldwork, it has undergone a change in senior leadership that reprioritized the critical role CWMD plays in implementing SAFA. Specifically, CWMD reconstituted a formal Food, Agriculture, and Veterinary Defense program, which is now staffed with personnel supported by a budget. CWMD is also rebuilding and strengthening relationships with internal DHS components and interagency and external stakeholders.

Read the full report at OIG

Kylie Bielby
Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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