WASHINGTON – The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee unanimously approved bipartisan legislation on Thursday authored by Chairman Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) and Ranking Member Susan Collins (R-Me.) that would implement unfulfilled recommendations of the 9-11 Commission by improving the nation’s security against terrorism. The legislation includes provisions to increase risk-based homeland security grants to states, improve interoperable communications among first responders, restrict terrorists’ ability to enter the United States, and improve information sharing – all the while preserving the civil liberties and freedoms of American citizens.
“Today we continue the process of securing our nation in this new era where our enemies don’t wear uniforms, or attack with fleets of planes or ships, but rather move silently among us as they conspire to attack civilian populations,” said Senator Lieberman. “This bill contains robust security enhancements to the Visa Waiver Program so we can detect terrorists trying to enter the United States before they’ve boarded a plane. Equally important, it continues to preserve and promote Americans’ individual rights and civil liberties as we fight the threat of terrorism. It is the vital mission of our generation of Americans to build a safer and more secure nation for the generations to come.”
“The Improving America’s Security Act of 2007 is a worthy addition to the accomplishments this Committee has already achieved in crafting a fundamental reform of our national intelligence elements and processes; establishing the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board; and devising new protections for America’s seaports and chemical facilities,” said Senator Collins. “Committee approval of this bill marks another big, bipartisan step toward correcting the homeland-security defects identified by the 9/11 Commission.”
Key components of the legislation, known as the “Improving America’s Security Act of 2007,” include:
Authorization of $3.105 billion for each of the next three years for a new Homeland Security Grant Program, which would ensure that grants intended to increase prevention and preparedness for terrorist attacks would be distributed overwhelmingly based on the risk to an area from a terrorist attack. The funds would be allocated through urban area security grants, state homeland security grants, emergency management performance grants, and emergency communications and interoperability grants.
Creation of a dedicated interoperable grant program within FEMA to help state, local and tribal governments build communications systems that allow first responders from different organizations to talk with each other in a disaster.
Improving the government’s ability to disrupt terrorists’ travel and infiltration of the U.S. by requiring the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State to implement security improvements to the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). These include improved reporting of lost or stolen passports, requiring countries to share information about prospective visitors who may pose a threat to the U.S., and authorizing an “electronic travel authorization” system with which travelers would apply in advance for authorization to enter the U.S.
Strengthening the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board by giving members fixed terms and requiring members to be Senate confirmed; by expanding responsibilities to inform the public; and by ensuring the board has the power to obtain documents and testimony from both the government and the private sector.
Establishing a voluntary certification program for private sector preparedness that would provide companies with a clear roadmap for strengthening preparedness, one of which would enhance companies’ abilities to mitigate against, prepare for, respond to and recover from both natural disasters and terrorist attacks.
Improving counter-terrorism information sharing within the federal government and among federal, state and local officials. The bill makes the Program Manager of the Information Sharing Environment permanent and would create standards for state and local fusion centers, assign federal intelligence analysts to them, and create intelligence fellowship programs for state and locals officials.
The Committee also agreed to an amendment proposed by Senator Lieberman that would revise the Transportation Security Administration’s management practices to provide TSA screeners with the same rights and protections as other TSA or homeland security personnel.
The full 9/11 Commission recommendation bill is expected to be taken up by the full Senate after the Presidents’ Day recess.