WASHINGTON – Governmental Affairs Committee Ranking Member Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., Friday challenged the Bush Administration’s failure to offer strong leadership and enough money to improve homeland security and, amid anxiety about a nationwide code orange terrorist alert, outlined three steps that should be taken immediately to close gaping vulnerabilities in our domestic defense.
In an address to the ANSER Institute for Homeland Security and the Elliott School for International Affairs at George Washington University, Lieberman argued that the Administration’s zeal for cutting taxes for the few was the wrong choice in the face of potential terrorist attacks that endanger the many. The imperative, he said, is to meet the pressing needs of those on the front lines of the domestic war against terrorism, to make better use of the vast resources of the military for homeland purposes, and to immediately shore up port, border and transportation security.
Lieberman proposed an increase of $16 billion for homeland security needs for FY2004, to supplement the Administration’s spare $300 million increase between funding levels endorsed last year by the Administration and those proposed in this year’s budget. As part of that increase, he called for $7.5 billion in funding for first responders above the President’s $3.5 billion proposal, and urged the Administration to get already-promised money to local governments immediately.
“The Administration has been too slow and too protective of the status quo, and too unwilling to back up tough talk with real resources when it comes to improving our homeland defenses,” Lieberman said. “As a result, we remain in too much danger today… The fact is in a time of war, facing a fierce and ruthless enemy that targets us here at home as well as overseas, this administration would spend far more of our national treasure on ineffective and unfair tax cuts than on homeland security.”
The Administration’s priorities, he said, “favor the wallets of the few over the safety of us all.”
Lieberman, who led the congressional drive to create a new Department of Homeland Security, outlined three immediate initiatives. Support for First Responders Asserting that first responders must be given training, communications, information they need to do their job, Lieberman proposed $7.5 billion in new funding above the Administration’s call for $3.5 billion. He also called for the Departments of Homeland Security and Defense to offer local law enforcers and fire fighters expanded access to special training on chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear weaponry. He proposed a National Homeland Security Academy to train future leaders in domestic defense and a Smart Intelligence Sharing Strategy to get first responders the information they need, including access to federal terrorist watch lists, a 24-hour operation center in each state, and speedier security clearance to receive intelligence.
Shoring up Ports, Border and Transportation Systems Lieberman called on the Transportation Security Administration to broaden its scope of attention beyond commercial air travel to safeguard all forms of transportation. He said a port inspection system must be put in place to “make sure that, as close as possible to their point of origin, all containers have their contents verified and are securely sealed, and then are logged and tracked with a transponder.” He proposed a greater investment in upgrading the physical security of ports, a speeding up of Coast Guard modernization, and the hiring of thousands more border personnel.
Making Better Use of the Armed Forces Stressing the need to “refocus the brains and brawn of our military on homeland defense,” Lieberman said the mission of the National Guard must be reshaped so that it can not only defend Americans abroad, but also protect Americans at home. Selected units, he said, should help train local first responders in catastrophic response and prepare to assist with rebuilding infrastructure in case of attack. He also proposed expansion of the ROTC program to add domestic offense to its curriculum to attract young Americans to careers in homeland defense.
“Leadership is about choices as well as intentions,” Lieberman said. “And this Administration is not putting our money and its leadership where our needs are. Its choices favor the economic well being of the few over the safety of us all.”