WASHINGTON – Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Me., Thursday argued for more money than the Administration’s Fiscal Year 2009 homeland security budget proposes to support state and local first responders and preventers.
At a hearing to examine the Administration’s 2009 homeland security budget at which Secretary Michael Chertoff testified, the two Senators said that a 48 percent overall cut in funds for state and local homeland security efforts compared to 2008 appropriations was unacceptable.
The Senators also expressed concern and closely questioned Chertoff about a new report confirming higher than normal formaldehyde levels in FEMA trailers that could affect the health of thousands of people housed in them after being left homeless by Hurricane Katrina.
“For the fifth consecutive year, the Administration proposes to slash funding for those grants that communities across the country depend on most to pay for their homeland security needs,” Lieberman said. “Without these grants, the nation’s first responders cannot capably partner with the federal government to prevent attacks or respond effectively when disaster strikes… With no evidence the threats against have diminished – or that our state and local first preventers and first responders are nearly as prepared as they need to be, I will, as I have in the past, oppose the Administration’s proposed cuts to these grant programs and work to restore funding to full levels authorized by last year’s 9/11 legislation.”
Senator Collins said, “States rely heavily on State Homeland Security Grants for emergency planning, risk assessments, mutual-aid agreements, equipment, training, and exercises for first responders. That is why I am very concerned about the nearly $700 million gap between this year’s budget for the State Homeland Security Grant Program and what Congress enacted last year.”
The Department celebrates its fifth anniversary March 1. Lieberman and Collins both said that while some success has been achieved and the nation is safer than it was before 9/11/01, numerous security challenges remain. Among them: the security of the vast computer systems and databases that undergird our critical infrastructure, as well as the security of DHS’ own computer systems; preparedness to prevent and respond to an attack using weapons of mass destruction, particularly a nuclear bomb; and security at our borders.
An array of management challenges also interferes with the Department’s success, they said. Morale of the DHS workforce is at an unacceptably low level; more active supervision is needed of several large, costly procurement projects; and the lack of a consolidated headquarters prevent the Department from fully integrating the two dozen agencies that comprise it.
Several Senators, including Lieberman and Collins, also criticized the Department’s proposal to cut funding to its own Inspector General, which has served as a watchdog against agency waste, fraud, and abuse.