First Responders Need Additional Resources

WASHINGTON – Governmental Affairs Committee Ranking Member Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., entered the following statement into the record on Thursday regarding the FY 2004 homeland security appropriations bill amendment by Senator Chris Dodd, D-Conn., to increase funding for first responders:

Mr. President, I rise in strong support of the amendment offered by my colleague Senator Dodd to add $15 billion in funding for our first responders and first preventers

I commend my friend for his strong leadership and I am proud to be a cosponsor. One of the federal government’s primary responsibilities under the Constitution is to provide for a common defense. Today, in the face of the terrorist threat, that means more than building a mighty, well-equipped and well trained Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard. It means strengthening the shared security of our fifty states and their cities and towns, as well as our territories. Today, the readiness of our fire fighters and police officers and public health professionals is every bit as important to our national security as the readiness of our soldiers, sailors and airmen. Homeland security is expensive. It can’t be accomplished on the cheap. And because the war against terrorism is a national fight, a substantial portion of the responsibility falls to the federal government. It takes serious money to make the necessary changes to our services and infrastructure. To employ, train and equip top-flight first responders. To buy biometric security systems, hire more border personnel, install information sharing networks and develop biological and chemical testing and treatment capabilities. Securing the nation’s ports, as well as chemical and nuclear plants must become a top priority. In transportation, we must move beyond aviation and also secure mass transit, rails, air cargo, pipelines, tunnels, and bridges. These tough jobs and countless others can’t be accomplished with wishful thinking or a magic wand. And they cannot be accomplished by placing an unfair share of the burden on state and local governments who are already facing the worst fiscal crises in decades. Ever since before we established the Department of Homeland Security, many of us were asking this Administration to provide adequate resources, to provide them quickly and to target them more effectively. But unfortunately, that hasn’t happened. Across the country, states and localities are being spread thinner than ever at the moment they can least afford it. Homeland security and healthcare costs are rising. Deficits are rising. But the economy isn’t. Only our firefighters can protect against chemical weapons or rescue families trapped in buildings. But in some cities and states around the country today, our first preventers and responders are actually being laid off because of budget cutbacks. That’s like reducing your troop force in a time of conventional warfare. It’s crazy and it must stop and only more money from Washington can make it stop. Yet this Administration’s indifference is undermining the men and women who are our first line of defense in the war against terrorism. The American people expect and believe that we are doing our utmost to ensure that sufficient funds are provided, but in too many communities, the reality is unlikely to meet the expectation. The Administration has failed to make sure that the necessary funds go to those who need it most: the local fire fighters, police officers emergency technicians and public health workers who protect and serve us every day. In February, I proposed spending an additional $16 billion on homeland security above the President’s Fiscal Year 2004 budget – $7. 5 billion of which was for first responders. In June, I offered an amendment at the Governmental Affairs Committee markup to add $10 billion to Senator Collins’legislation authorizing grant programs for our first responders, but my amendment was defeated on a party line vote. During the markup, it was suggested that we should not authorize that amount of funding without an independent assessment of what the real needs are. Well now that rationale, which I believe failed to consider the testimony, public statements, and other assessments which already existed, no longer can be made. That is because on June 29th a report by an Independent Task Force sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations – composed of distinguished former government officials, including a director of the CIA and the FBI, our colleague Senator Rudman, a White House terrorism adviser and a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – corroborated the conclusions I and others reached months ago. The report, entitled, “Drastically Underfunded, Dangerously Unprepared,” (the “Task Force report”) determined that “the United States has not reached a sufficient national level of emergency preparedness and remains dangerously unprepared to handle a catastrophic attack on American soil. … If the nation does not take immediate steps to better identify and address the urgent needs of emergency responders, the next terrorist incident could have an even more devastating impact than the 9/11 attacks. “0 Indeed, the Task Force report found that the U.S. is on track to fall nearly $100 billion short of meeting critical emergency responder needs over the next five years. This estimate does not even include some known needs–such as detection or protection gear for police–because the task force could not obtain reliable estimates for those areas. The Administration’s response to the warning from this respected commission? It brushed off the report’s spending recommendation as “grossly inflated.” The Task Force report listed a number of urgent needs left unmet due to lack of funding. They point out that funds are urgently needed, among other things, to: provide interoperable communications equipment for all emergency responder groups across the country so that those on the front lines can communicate with one another while on the scene of an attack; enhance urban search and rescue capabilities of major cities; extend the emergency 911 system nationally; provide protective gear and weapons of mass destruction remediation equipment to first responders; and increase public health preparedness and develop surge capacity on the nation’s hospitals. The report’s findings are sobering. For example, the report noted: “On average, fire departments across the country only have enough radios to equip half the firefighters on a shift, and breathing apparatus for only one third. Only 10 percent of fire departments in the United States have the personnel and equipment to respond to a building collapse.” The report found cities without the means to determine whether terrorists had struck with dangerous chemicals or pathogens, and public health labs incapable of responding to a chemical or biological attack. Earlier today, yet another report was issued –this one by the Progressive Policy Institute(PPI)–which noted that the Bush Administration has failed to adequately address critical homeland security needs, including: improving intelligence gathering and analysis; improving security at the state and local level; controlling our national borders; protecting against bio terror attacks; and protecting critical facilities. The report graded the Administration’s overall efforts to protect the homeland as “D.” It acknowledged that some progress has been made in a few areas, but added “we find that the Bush Administration has not brought the same energy and attention to homeland security that it has brought to overseas military efforts. The administration has failed to adequately fund a number of essential homeland security functions. In the absence of presenting a compelling vision of the changes necessary to protect the homeland, the Bush Administration has failed to push back on the government bureaucracies that have resisted meaningful change. In short the President has failed to make homeland security his top priority.” The PPI report and the Independent Task Force of the Council on Foreign Relations Report follow a series of assessments that have raised serious questions about the extent and effectiveness of the Administration’s homeland security efforts. The Administration must stop ignoring the evidence that, with respect to homeland security, almost two years after the September 11, 2001 attacks, we remain “drastically under funded, dangerously unprepared.” These reports have simply confirmed what we the Governmental Affairs Committee and others in Congress have been told for many months: the reality is that left without sufficient resources, state and local governments and first responder organizations are struggling – and failing – to keep up with their day-to-day critical services to their communities as their homeland security obligations take an increasing toll. At a hearing of the Governmental Affairs Committee this spring, one police chief told us that he had to eliminate or cut back community police, drug enforcement, traffic enforcement and programs in schools in order to station most of his force at the airport. Even as they are forced to abandon more and more of their traditional work to serve as the front line in the war on terrorism here at home, these first responder groups are unable to work effectively because they are lacking sufficient funds. Ed Plaugher, Fire Chief of Arlington, Virginia told the Governmental Affairs Committee that the stress of protecting the homeland without adequate resources is affecting the morale of first responders. Captain Chauncey Bowers of the Prince Georges County, Maryland Fire Department testified before the Governmental Affairs Committee on behalf of the International Association of Firefighters and told us that we need a national commitment to homeland security preparedness; he urged us to work to ensure that every fire department in America has the resources to protect our citizens. First responders need equipment such as personal protective clothing, respirators, and devices for detection of chemical, biological and radiological hazards. They need training in using such equipment, and training in how in general to respond in an attack. Nevertheless, local fire and police officials at our hearings told us at the Governmental Affairs Committee hearings they do not have the resources to pay for training or equipment that they need to prepare for a possible attack. Indeed, most emergency workers still do not have the training or the equipment they require. The December 2002 needs assessment of the U.S. Fire Service conducted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in conjunction with the National Fire Protection Association found that about one-third of fire fighters per shift are not equipped with self-contained breathing apparatus, and nearly half of all fire departments have no map coordinate system. And with respect to training, another study by FEMA found that 27 percent of fire department personnel involved in providing emergency medical services lacked any formal training even in those duties, and incredibly, 73 percent of fire departments failed to meet regulations for hazardous materials response training. The Administration’s own budget documents estimate that only about 80,000 first responders were trained and equipped in 2002 with funding at the federal level of $750 million. Unless this Administration provides significantly more funding, it will take us decades to train our first responders to cope with weapons of mass destruction. We do not have that kind of time. Even if we could supply training and equipment to all of our first responders, there are simply not enough of them. A survey by the Progressive Policy Institute of 44 of the largest police departments found that 27 of them – nearly two-thirds – are experiencing personnel shortfalls as a result of inadequate budgets and problems attracting new recruits. According to the report, the city of Chicago, as a result of increased overtime costs, has delayed hiring new officers and thus has seen its ranks decline between 2000 and 2002. Detroit’s experience has been similar, with a 50 percent increase in overtime costs while its ranks thinned by 5.3 percent between 2000 and 2002. This report is shocking and sad at a time when we should be enhancing our first line of defense. It highlights the need to provide adequate funding to hire additional police officers and fire fighters. Yet the Bush Administration has steadfastly opposed the efforts of the sponsor of this amendment to support the SAFER Act, which would authorize over $1 billion per year for seven years to hire 10,0000 additional fire fighters per year. I’m proud to be a cosponsor of that legislation and the amendment to the DoD bill which would partially fund those firefighters; and I was proud that the homeland security bill which I authored last Congress included funding to hire firefighters –but that provision was defeated by Republicans on the Senate floor. The PPI survey also makes clear the need for adequate funding for overtime related to training. Indeed, according to the Conference of Mayors, cities across America spent $70 million per week when the homeland security alert was raised to orange – much of it for overtime expenses. Finally, even if local police and fire departments had sufficient personnel, they lack the ability to communicate effectively in a time of emergency. In most areas of the U.S., the police, fire fighters and emergency technicians in the same jurisdiction have no way to communicate in the field because their equipment is not compatible. Lack of interoperability in communications systems has been cited as a cause of the deaths of 343 fire fighters in New York City on September 11, 2001, because police could not reach them prior to the collapse of the World Trade Center towers. Achieving this goal, however, will be expensive, and the Administration’s funding commitment is wholly insufficient. The Public Safety Wireless Network, a joint Treasury and Justice Department policy group, estimates it could cost up to $18 billion. According to the National Task Force on Interoperability, at the state level, replacing basic radio systems for a single public safety agency can cost between $100 million and $300 million. Meanwhile, Secretary Ridge testified before the Governmental Affairs Committee on May 1, 2003 that $40 million had been appropriated to run “some demonstrations projects with regard to interoperable communications.” This is an inadequate response to a long-standing and expensive problem, and will leave our first line of defense without the basic equipment they need. Mr. President, our police officers, firefighters, emergency management officials, and public health officials—those we call first responders and first preventers in the fight against terrorism—are struggling to protect us from unprecedented dangers. Those funds must come from Washington because this is a national fight, and budgets are tight and getting tighter in state and local governments across our nation. Unfortunately, most of my pleas and those of my colleagues — along with those of independent, bipartisan experts and state and local governments — have fallen on deaf ears within this Administration. Senator Dodd has chosen the exact opposite route, and the route we urgently need to pursue: his amendment embraces the recommendations of the expert task force of the Council of Foreign Relations. I strongly urge support of the amendment offered by my colleague Senator Dodd.