A Department of Homeland Security (DHS) official who presided over the scaling back of some of the department’s counterterrorism efforts during the past two years will leave his post at the request of acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan, according to The Los Angeles Times.
James F. McDonnell, whom President Trump appointed to lead the Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office and its predecessor, the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office, will leave effective Thursday, McDonnell said in an email to staff Wednesday, according to the newspaper.
McDonnell has faced bipartisan scrutiny amid reports earlier this year that he promoted a controversial, scientifically-disputed system for detection of airborne infectious agents.
He announced last November that the department planned to take the system nationwide in the next two years despite repeated failures of the underlying “trigger” technology in testing stages.
In July, the Times reported he had overseen the scaling back or outright elimination of several DHS anti-terrorism initiatives, including programs that trained state, local and federal officials to detect weapons of mass destruction that could be hidden in suitcases or “dirty bombs” hidden on cargo ships.
McDonnell also disbanded DHS’s International Cooperation Division, which collaborated with the department’s foreign counterparts and the United Nations’s International Atomic Energy Agency in monitoring nuclear material smuggling.
A spokeswoman for McDonnell told the Times in July that the Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office was “focused on preventing WMD terrorism by working with federal, state, and local partners across the nation” and that “some programs were realigned or restructured to better address threats, remove bureaucratic redundancy, and fully align with [Trump’s] National Security Strategy.”
During McDonnell’s tenure, more than 100 scientists and experts in nuclear or radiological threats were reassigned or left the department, according to the Times. The Office of Personnel Management’s Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey found the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office ranked in last place among comparable “subcomponent” offices last year, according to the Times.
The Hill has reached out to DHS for comment.