WASHINGTON – Calling for the Senate to act with a sense of urgency, Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Me., took to the floor of the Senate Wednesday for the official opening of debate on S.4, a bill to improve the nation’s security against terrorism by fully implementing the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations.

“Every day that we don’t act is another day in which we are not as secure here at home as we should be,” said Lieberman. “This bill would create a strategy to strengthen our homeland security against the threat of terrorist attack and also prepare for and recover from all hazards, whether natural or man-made. We’ve studied. We’ve reflected. And now, with a real sense of urgency, it is time to act to build a safer and more secure nation for the generations to come.”

“This legislation continues the work of Congress and the Senate Homeland Security Committee to strengthen our homeland security in the spirit that shaped the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission,” said Senator Collins. “Our legislation’s broad-front attack on the threats we face will ensure good value for every dollar our nation spends to improve our defenses at the federal, state, and local levels. The legislation would ensure significant and predictable funding for our state, local, and tribal governments to help safeguard our lives and properties in all catastrophes, whether natural or manmade. It will provide appropriate transparency and accountability into the federal government’s security decisions. And it will strike an appropriate balance between increased security and our cherished civil liberties. The passage of this bill will benefit every American.”

The bipartisan bill, Improving America’s Security Act of 2007, was reported out of HSGAC February 15, 2007, on a vote of 16-0, with one abstention. It would provide risk-based homeland security grants to states, create a dedicated interoperable communications grants program for first responders, restrict terrorists’ ability to enter the United States, and improve information sharing among federal, state, and local officials. It also includes provisions to strengthen the privacy and civil liberties of ordinary Americans as we fight the war on terror.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid offered a substitute amendment Wednesday morning that combines S. 4 with three bills reported out of the Commerce Committee (S. 184, the Surface Transportation and Rail Security Act of 2007; S. 509, the Aviation Security Improvement Act; and S. 385, the Interoperable Emergency Communications Act), and a measure reported out of the Banking Committee (the Public Transportation Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007).

Specific provisions of the HSGAC bill include:

Authorization of $3.105 billion for each of the next three years for homeland security grants, which would ensure that grants intended to improve prevention and preparedness for terrorist attacks would be distributed overwhelmingly based on risk, while at the same time bolstering support for all-hazards preparedness;

Creation and authorization at $3.3 billion over five years of a dedicated interoperable grant program 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 improvements to the Visa Waiver Program;
Strengthening the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board;

Establishing a voluntary certification program for private sector preparedness that would provide companies with a clear roadmap for strengthening preparedness;

Improving counter-terrorism information sharing within the federal government and among federal, state and local officials.

In 2004, Congress passed and the President signed into law the Intelligence Reform and Terrorist Prevention Act, which enacted the major 9-11 Commission recommendations, including creation of a Director of National Intelligence to forge greater unity of effort among our intelligence agencies and a National Counter Terrorism Center to improve interagency planning to combat terrorism.

“This bill that we began considering in the Senate today continues the process of securing our nation in this new era where our enemies don’t wear the uniforms of soldiers or follow any traditional laws of combat but, rather, move silently among us, probing for weaknesses while plotting attacks on innocent civilians,” Lieberman said.