WASHINGTON – Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Me., Thursday heard testimony from two nominees to head key Department of Homeland Security offices – Grayling Williams, who began his career in Connecticut, to head the Office of Counternarcotics Enforcement at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Elizabeth Harman, nominated to be Assistant Administrator in charge of the Grant Programs Directorate at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

            “The Office of Counternarcotics Enforcement, in my opinion, has never been more vital to the homeland security mission given the ever increasing violence on our southern border as a result of the drug trade,” Lieberman said.  “Mr. Williams is exceedingly well-qualified to assume this role based on his extraordinary educational background, his 23-year career with the Drug Enforcement Administration, and his impressive appearance before the Committee today.  I am confident in his ability to lead the counternarcotics office with distinction and I hope his nomination sails right through the Senate.

            “Ms. Harman’s nomination has support from a truly impressive array of groups and individuals representing the first responder community,” he continued. “She has boots on the ground experience and a very impressive background.  I hope her nomination can be approved rapidly so the grants program directorate can have the leadership it needs.”

Collins said the nomination of Williams comes at a time when the threat to our nation posed by illegal drug trafficking is escalating.  “Earlier this year, the Committee held two hearings on violence along the Southwest Border being perpetrated by Mexican drug cartels.  The 2009 National Southwest Border Counternarcotics Strategy noted an even greater threat to our homeland security: the possibility of collaboration between drug cartels and terrorist groups.  The Strategy noted that the same smuggling routes and techniques used to bring narcotics across the border could be exploited to smuggle in ‘terrorists and weapons of terror.’  Our homeland security officials must fight this potential threat, working closely with the many security elements arrayed against illegal drug trafficking. Coordinating DHS’s work with these security elements, at the federal, state, and local levels, is among the primary responsibilities of the Director of the Office of Counternarcotics Enforcement (CNE).”

Collins said the nomination of Harman highlights the importance of homeland security grant programs, “a vital part of enhancing the nation’s capability to prepare for, protect against, and respond to a full range of natural disasters and man-made hazards.  And because terrorists do not always live and plan in areas they ultimately intend to strike, these grants must ensure that states – both large and small – are able to build capabilities to confront terrorist activity and respond effectively to all hazards. In addition to providing such critically needed funding to improve the nation’s preparedness, FEMA must play another important role as grant administrator:  ensuring wise spending of taxpayer dollars.”

            Williams is currently Chief of Staff to the Chief of Operations at the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). He received a degree from the University of New Haven in 1977, and began his career on the Yale University police force before joining the DEA as a special agent, serving in New Haven, Hartford, and Bridgeport, Conn.

            Harman is Director of the Hazardous Materials and Weapons of Mass Destruction Training Department at the International Association of Fire Fighters and served as a fire fighter in Virginia and Maryland.

            Both nominees must be approved by the Committee before they can go before the full Senate for final confirmation.