Lieberman Refutes Bush Boast of Greater Homeland Security

WASHINGTON – Reacting to President Bush’s claim Wednesday that great strides have been made to protect American shores from terrorist attack, Governmental Affairs Committee Ranking Member Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., said the Administration’s declarations are not matched by the reality. Persistent and glaring vulnerabilities remain, Lieberman said, while the Administration has routinely failed to provide the leadership and resources necessary to correct them.

“The Bush Administration has little reason to swagger,” Lieberman said. “In fact, it has consistently fallen short of its responsibility to protect the American public at home. The good news is that we now have a Cabinet-level department that can focus critical attention and resources on these problems. Unfortunately, the Administration thus far has failed to offer the vision or resources the Department needs to succeed in its mission.” As a leading advocate for the creation of a Department of Homeland Security, and ranking member of the Senate committee with oversight responsibilities over the department, Lieberman has spent the last nine months meticulously analyzing the start -up of the new cabinet-level agency. While he has noted some successes – for example, there has been an improvement in aviation passenger screening – he has also expressed disappointment in chronic under-funding of many of the department’s key functions. Among the outstanding gaps in homeland security Lieberman cited are insufficient funding for state and local first responders, inadequate information sharing with state and local homeland security officials, scant progress on port and container security, an absence of vision for protecting the critical infrastructure, and an unwillingness to challenge the status quo to forge a powerful new terrorist threat information center in the department. “Insufficient funding – especially for the men and women on the frontlines of the domestic war against terrorism – continues to be a serious handicap,” Lieberman said. “Nevertheless, I remain committed to working to overcome the array of challenges facing the department to help it become the homeland security lynch pin we envisioned it to be.” Specifically, Lieberman noted the following as a partial list of vulnerabilities that remain in homeland security:

  • First Responder Funding The Administration has consistently underestimated the funding needs of state and local first responders. A number of analyses concur that the President’s FY 2004 budget request of $3.5 billion for first responders is woefully inadequate. The most recent independent report, by the Council on Foreign Relations, estimated that first responders’ needs were being under funded at a rate of $100 billion over five years. The Administration and the Republican-led Congress have routinely blocked efforts to increase money for those who put their lives on the line for the rest of us.
  • Intelligence The government’s 12 terrorist watch lists scattered among nine different agencies should have been consolidated long ago, so that terrorists can’t get into the country, or, if they do slip in, so that local police have the ability to identify them as terrorists from a consolidated list. The department still does not have a unified terrorist threat integration center as required by law where information can consistently flow between the federal intelligence community and state and local authorities to identify threats, and then unravel and stop them. The information integration center that exists under the authority of the CIA does not operate on the principle that sharing intelligence, with proper protections, multiplies our chances of catching terrorists.
  • State and Local Information Sharing State and local homeland security officials still are not receiving the critical information they need from federal agencies. As a report released by Senator Lieberman last month documented, there is no systematic way for state and local officials to communicate with federal officials, either to get information to them or get information from them, and their access to information is further impaired by an often cumbersome security clearance process. Although Secretary Ridge has stated his commitment to improving the situation and some progress is being made, the Administration has not provided the aggressive leadership necessary to break down the institutional barriers to information sharing between federal and state officials. As a result, state and local officials are often, in the words of the report, “left, if not entirely blind, straining to see the terrorist threat and how best to respond to it.”
  • Critical Infrastructure The Administration still lacks both a vision and a strategy for protecting the nation’s critical infrastructure. It has not taken the steps necessary to protect energy transmission systems, water supplies, financial and communications networks, chemical and nuclear plants, and highways, and other systems and structures that are essential to our economy and to public safety. A comprehensive list of potential targets and their vulnerability has not been compiled. Nor has the Administration developed a plan for safeguarding the estimated 85 percent of critical infrastructure that is owned by the private sector – including much of the electricity grid that proved so vulnerable in the recent multi-state blackout.
  • Transportation Other Than Passenger Aviation The Administration has not expanded its transportation security efforts beyond the field of aviation to cover mass transit, passenger and freight rail systems, and air cargo. Transportation Security Administration Administrator James Loy told Congress last May that he would soon produce a National Transportation Security Plan. He has yet to do so. This plan should not be delayed further. Transportation security is further threatened because of Administration under funding. The President’s FY 2004 request for TSA was $500 million less than the FY 2003 request.
  • Port Security The security weakness of our ports is widely known, yet the Administration has committed far too little in resources and attention to securing these vital commercial centers. The Administration is not seeking any money for port security grants, despite the estimate of its own Coast Guard that more than $1.1 billion is needed next year for just the basic physical security of ports. While there has been some movement toward better systems to screen the containers that enter this country by sea, the vast majority of these containers remain dangerously insecure and the security efforts surrounding them must be pursued with greater rigor and more resources.
  • Bio Terrorism The existing public health system is poorly equipped to detect, track, and respond to bioterror attacks. President Bush’s proposed Project BioShield legislation is a limited first step toward improving our ability to respond. But Senator Lieberman has introduced legislation advocating a far more comprehensive approach for developing incentives to create a viable biodefense industry capable of responding to the evolving bioterror threat.
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