WASHINGTON – Governmental Affairs Committee Ranking Member Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., Friday congratulated the Department of Homeland Security on its first official day of business and warned of the outstanding challenges still confronting the nation’s domestic defenses:
Today, the Department of Homeland Security – which I worked for over a year to create – comes into existence. It will take time for the complicated transition to the new department to be complete, but I have no doubt this reorganization will provide greater protection to the American people against terrorist attack on our home soil.
What we have done in creating this new department is try to convert a dispersed, disorganized, and dysfunctional domestic defense effort into a coherent, consolidated, and coordinated one. However, we remain dangerously vulnerable. Our local and state law enforcement officials still operate in a virtual intelligence vacuum – with no access to the terrorist watch lists that the State Department provides to our immigration and consular officials. Of the 21,000 shipping containers that come through our ports every day, no more than two percent – about 400 – are inspected. And our first responders are unprepared for potential chemical or biological attacks.
Since September 11th, I’ve challenged the Bush Administration to do more. I’ve put forward a comprehensive plan to engage the private sector in an unprecedented effort to develop the vaccines we need to protect ourselves from the worst bioterrorism weapons. I’ve proposed refocusing some of our National Guard to better fight terrorism here at home. I’ve challenged the Administration to create a strong intelligence unit in the new department to address intelligence failures that led up to September 11th. Most importantly, I’ve fought to get local police officers, firefighters, and medical personnel the salaries, training, technology, and resources they need now to fight and win this war.
That’s why I strongly support the bill, sponsored by Senator Clinton, to get funding swiftly and directly to local communities through a new homeland security block grant. There’s no way around it: Improving homeland security costs money. Yet, neither the White House, nor my Republican colleagues in Congress have acted fast enough to get that desperately needed funding out of the Capitol and into our local communities. We need clear vision and strong action from the Administration now. The safety of the American people deserves nothing less.