Lieberman Laments Lack of Homeland Security Resources

WASHINGTON – Governmental Affairs Committee Ranking Member Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., submitted the following statement for the record Thursday regarding the Fiscal Year 2004 Homeland Security Appropriations bill:

This first appropriations bill for the Department of Homeland Security should have been a highpoint in our shared quest to secure the homeland. In the anguished days after September 11, members of both parties were able to unite around our commitment to fight for a different, more secure future. The new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) should be a monument to that commitment. But the Department and its partners cannot make a difference without real resources to fight terrorism here at home. This bill does not provide those resources, and it does not provide them because the President has refused to lead on this issue. We are fighting a war on terrorism that demands our full energy and determination. It must be waged not only overseas, but also at home. Yet President Bush has repeatedly balked at carrying out a serious effort at homeland defense. In the face of numerous expert reports chronicling the terrorist threat to U.S. citizens and property here at home – and the need for a dramatic infusion of new federal funds — President Bush has consistently failed to embrace the challenge of homeland security with vision or resources. Recall that President Bush had to be dragged to the table to consider a Department of Homeland Security. For months, President Bush rejected calls by myself and others to create a Cabinet-level department that could robustly tackle the daunting challenge of homeland security. Critical time was lost as the Administration continued to insist that the monumental task of securing our homeland could be handled by a policy advisor in the White House without budget or line authority over any of the federal workers tasked with our homeland security. But when the Administration changed tacks and signed onto the idea of a new department last summer, I welcomed them to the cause. And when the legislation was passed to create the Department, I held out hope that the Administration would now vigorously address the vulnerabilities in our homeland defenses. Sadly, that trust was misplaced. Having belatedly agreed to create the Department of Homeland Security, the President now refuses to seek the resources DHS – and its partners at the state and local level – must have in order to succeed. Even before the legislation to create the Department went through, I had urged the White House to boost spending on critical homeland security programs. Yet throughout the last appropriations cycle, the Administration resisted repeated Democratic attempts to obtain more resources for first responders and other critical homeland security accounts. Whether the question was equipping our first responders, bolstering our border personnel or money for transit security – to cite just a few items – the Administration kept saying no. Then, in February, with the Department of Homeland Security nearly launched, the President sent the Congress a status quo budget for homeland security for FY 04 – requesting only $300 million more than it planned to spend on homeland defense activities in the preceding year. Incredibly, the President’s request included no new money for first responders, no new money to equip our hospitals and public health clinics to combat bioterrorism, and no money at all for port security grants. The President’s proposed budget actually cut funds for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), an agency whose urgent work is just beginning. It provided almost no money to assess and help protect our nation’s critical infrastructure. It was a business-as-usual budget, when we needed a call to arms to address the dire new threats confronting us. And that timid request drove the budget debate this spring and shaped the broad contours of the appropriations bill before us. I can hardly overstate the gravity of this failure to lead. The federal government may have no more fundamental obligation than to provide for the common defense. Today, as September 11 so painfully showed us, that means more than building a strong military and deploying our outstanding servicemen and women in hot spots around the world. Now, it also means securing our borders and, within the country, building a network of shared security with our state and local governments. We must equip and empower our frontline homeland defense workers – be they Customs inspectors, baggage screeners, local police and firefighters or public health professionals – just as robustly as we have readied our soldiers, sailors and airmen for combat overseas. Homeland security is expensive. We must invest in the people and the technologies that can prevent or help respond to terrorism, and that means making substantial new investments in our services and infrastructure. We must employ, train and equip top-flight first responders. We must hire more border personnel, create biometric security systems, install information sharing networks and develop biological and chemical testing and treatment capabilities. Securing the nation’s ports, as well as chemical and nuclear plants, must become a top priority. In transportation, we must move beyond aviation and also secure mass transit, highways, rails, air cargo, container shipments, pipelines, tunnels, and bridges. Dollars alone will not solve these challenges, but they certainly cannot be conquered without more resources. Nor should we ask state and local governments, who are already facing the worst fiscal crises in decades, to shoulder an unfair portion of the burden. The war against terrorism is a national fight, and a substantial portion of the financial responsibility falls to the federal government. That is why, in February, I called for an additional $16 billion for homeland security in FY 04, including an additional $7.5 billion for grants for first responders. My proposal advocated significant new resources for port security grants, public health preparedness, heightened security in all modes of transportation, critical infrastructure protection, and more. I argued that we must approach homeland security with the same urgency, and resources, that we would deploy against terrorists overseas. In the same vein, last month I sought to authorize $10 billion for first responders in FY 04 during consideration of S. 1245, a bill to improve the process for distributing first responder grants to state and local governments, in the Governmental Affairs Committee. Unfortunately, my amendment was rejected on a party-line vote. An expert task force has recently delivered the same message about the urgent needs of our first responders. An Independent Task Force of the Council on Foreign Relations, led by former Sen. Warren Rudman and former White House terrorism advisor Richard Clarke, called for billions more to equip and train the Nation’s first responders. The report’s title says it all: “Drastically Underfunded, Dangerously Unprepared.” The task force, which included a former director of the FBI and CIA as well as a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, found a nation still “dangerously ill-prepared to handle catastrophic attack on U.S. soil.” It found fire departments without proper breathing apparatuses and interoperable radios, cities without the means to determine whether terrorists had struck with dangerous chemicals or other hazardous materials, and public health labs incapable of responding to a chemical or biological attack. This expert task force concluded that government would need to spend an additional $98.4 billion over five years to prepare the Nation’s first responders. The Administration’s response to the warning from this respected commission? The Administration brushed off the report’s spending recommendation as “grossly inflated.” The Administration simply cannot be listening to our first responders. Far from seeming inflated, the funding recommendations of the task force report only corroborated what I have heard from first responders around the country, including testimony before the Governmental Affairs Committee. First responders need equipment such as personal protective clothing, respirators, and devices for detection of chemical, biological and radiological hazards. They need training to use such equipment effectively and to learn how to respond to a serious terrorist attack. However, local fire and police officials at our hearings told the Committee that they do not have the resources to pay for training or equipment that they need to prepare for a possible attack. For instance, Captain Bowers of Prince Georges County, Maryland told the Governmental Affairs Committee that approximately 57,000 fire fighters lack personal protective clothing and many fire departments do not have enough portable radios to equip more than half of the fire fighters on shift. Indeed, most emergency workers still do not have the training or the equipment they require. State and local governments and first responder organizations cannot train and equip these personnel on their own, and they are not getting the help they need from the federal government. The Administration’s own budget documents estimate that only about 80,000 first responders were trained and equipped in 2002 with funding at the federal level of $750 million. Unless this Administration provides significantly more funding, it will take us decades to train our first responders to cope with weapons of mass destruction. That is time we do not have. First responders are not the only homeland workers left in the lurch by this Administration. Independent experts and the General Accounting Office (GAO) have cited substantial shortfalls in other areas of homeland security as well. Transportation security is one glaring example. By law, the Transportation Security Administration is responsible for security in all modes of transportation. But TSA has thus far focused almost exclusively on commercial aviation, leaving treacherous weaknesses in other transportation systems – a problem I outlined in a July 9 letter to Secretary Ridge. With respect to maritime transportation, the Coast Guard has identified billions of dollars worth of necessary improvements – and Congress has mandated greater security – yet the Administration requested no money for port security grants to help make the changes. This even as expert upon expert has identified the nation’s 360 commercial ports as a leading cause for concern on the homeland front – in large part because of the valuable goods and energy imports channeled through these ports and because the millions of containers that enter this country by sea can hide untold dangers. Stephen Flynn, a homeland security specialist at the Council on Foreign Relations, summed it up this way in the June 21 Boston Globe: “A government that is wringing its hands over 1 or 2 million-dollar grants is still a nation that hasn’t come to grips with the fact that the threat has changed. I was more forgiving in the first 18 months, but when you pass an act and you make sure there is no money to execute it, that goes beyond being slow to not taking this seriously.” Mass transit systems are another grave source of concern. According to a December 2002 GAO report, mass transit systems are frequent targets for terrorists. We all remember the 1005 attack on the Tokyo subway, when members of a Japanese cult release sarin, a lethal chemical nerve gas, on five subway trains during rush hour. Twelve people were killed and thousands injured. Only mistakes by the terrorists kept the death toll from being far higher. Here in the United States, our transit systems remain vulnerable to such an attack. The GAO report concluded that “insufficient funding is the most significant challenge in making…transit systems as safe and secure as possible.” Yet the Administration is not seeking any significant resources to secure our nation’s transit systems – a project that could run into billions of dollars. Nor do we see a commitment to improve rail security, although vast quantities of hazardous materials are shipped by rail. Even in the area of passenger aviation, where TSA has focused virtually all its resources, troubling gaps remain. Officials have made strides in screening passengers themselves and their baggage, yet they have not developed a reliable system to screen commercial cargo loaded onto the very same planes. Look in almost any direction, and you will find pressing, unmet security needs. The Administration’s budget will not fulfill existing Congressional mandates to secure the borders with more personnel and better, biometric identification systems. Our nation’s critical infrastructure – chemical and nuclear plants, energy grids, water systems and more – remain dangerously exposed, yet the Administration seems content to continue studying these vulnerabilities rather than move aggressively towards creating greater protections. In March, I wrote to Secretary Ridge seeking firm timetables for completing inventories, risk assessments and protective measures for a wide array of critical infrastructure segments. The Secretary has yet to provide these timetables. These shortfalls are disturbing enough when taken in isolation. Seen together, they form a shockingly dismal picture of our homeland security. That is why former Senators Gary Hart and Warren Rudman, who were the first to call for a Department of Homeland Security and who warned of terrorist attacks within the United States even before the September 11 tragedy, last fall issued a new report warning that: “America remains dangerously unprepared to prevent and respond to a catastrophic terrorist attack on U.S. soil.” They concluded the federal government must invest more to equip and train first responders, to boost the health community’s capacity to prepare for and respond to chemical or biological attacks, and to improve transportation security beyond commercial aviation. Several months later, an expert study by the Brookings Institute came to a similar conclusion – the Administration was shortchanging key homeland security accounts such as port security and critical infrastructure protection. Even Republicans here in Congress have called for more. Indeed, this bill does go beyond the President’s request to provide some additional funds for certain homeland security accounts. But the appropriators do not go nearly far enough. So, as our firefighters and police officers face layoffs due to tight budgets, this bill would offer even less assistance to first responders than in FY 03. And as the Coast Guard predicts it will cost $1 billion this year to conduct the most basic port security assessments and improvements, this bill provides only $150 million for port security grants and would not give Coast Guard the personnel it needs to carry out its statutory mandate to review port security plans. It makes no sense to me that the Bush Administration is willing to shortchange homeland security. This is a profound failure of leadership that threatens to undermine our promise to the American people to do all we can to ensure this country never again suffers the tragic loss and disruption experienced on September 11 and its aftermath.