Lawmakers want permanent veterinary officer in DHS

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Congress is considering reinstating the chief veterinary officer position at the Department of Homeland Security.

Bipartisan legislation introduced in the Senate and House this April would formalize the position, which was eliminated as part of an administrative decision to divide its core responsibilities among DHS staff.

The AVMA has taken a position of support for the bill.

Congressman Mike Rogers, an Alabama Republican who introduced H.R. 5105, along with his Democratic colleague, Mary Jo Kilroy of Ohio, said cutting the CVO position undermined the importance of DHS involvement in agroterrorism, food security, and veterinary responsibilities.

"Eliminating this critical position with DHS would remove a key resource in the department's preparedness and response responsibilities. Whether it is an act of terrorism or nature, the CVO plays a critical role in our efforts to increase our security in food and animal matters," Rogers said.

The chief veterinary officer would be qualified in veterinary public health and emergency preparedness and be responsible for the department's initiatives relating to veterinary issues, food defense, and agricultural security.

Additionally, the CVO would be the principal authority in the DHS responsible for advising the secretary, in coordination with the assistant secretary for Health Affairs, on veterinary public health, food defense, and agricultural security issues.

Dr. John Ensign, a Nevada Republican, co-sponsored S. 3263, the Senate version of the House bill, with Democratic Sen. Daniel Akaka of Hawaii.

"As the Senate's only veterinarian, I understand the threat that a veterinary health crisis could pose to our national security," Dr. Ensign said. "A chief veterinary officer at the DHS would ensure that the agency charged with protecting our freedom here at home has the right person in place to appropriately manage such an event."

H.R. 5105 had been referred at press time to the Subcommittee on Emerging Threats, Cybersecurity, and Science and Technology. The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs was reviewing S. 3263.