WASHINGTON – Saying the Bush Administration’s homeland security budget for next year is “less than meets the eye and far less than is truly needed,” Governmental Affairs Committee Ranking Member Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., Thursday called for an appropriation of almost $14 billion above the President’s Fiscal Year 2005 budget proposal. Almost half of that sum would help first responders better prepare for and respond to a terrorist attack.
The Administration’s budget “does represent some new resources for homeland security,” Lieberman said in a letter to the Appropriations Committee’s Homeland Security Subcommittee Chairman Thad Cochran, R-Miss., and Subcommittee Ranking Member Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., “But the increase is less than meets the eye and far less than is truly needed. “For example, discretionary spending for DHS (the Department of Homeland Security) increases only about 4 percent and would essentially maintain the status quo, rather than allowing for critical new security initiatives,” Lieberman wrote. “Some key programs – most notably aid to first responders, our homeland security troops – will actually be cut.” Lieberman admonished the Administration’s proposed 31 percent, government-wide slash in money for first responders and he suggested spending an additional $6.3 billion in that area. Of that sum, $4 billion is needed for first responder preparedness, he said, including interoperable communications equipment. Lieberman also called for an additional $1 billion to fully fund the SAFER Act, which provides grants to firefighters, and $1.04 billion to restore proposed cuts to three important law enforcement grant programs. He called for an additional $500 million to secure passenger and freight rails – a security gap that must be given higher priority in the aftermath of the Madrid train bombings. And he called for $620 million to secure mass transit systems. Lieberman said the Administration’s bio-terror funding is less than it appears. For example, the White House’s proposed $2.5 billion for BioShield, the bioterror countermeasures program, must cover costs for the next four years. And while the Administration touts increases to improve bioterror surveillance, it does so at the expense of existing programs. For example, $105 million in bioterrorism preparedness grants to state and local health departments is eliminated. Another $39 million to help hospitals develop surge capacity is also cut. Below is a link to a copy of the letter. April 1, 2004 The Honorable Thad Cochran Chairman Subcommittee on Homeland Security Committee on Appropriations United States Senate Washington, D.C. The Honorable Robert C. Byrd Ranking Member Subcommittee on Homeland Security Committee on Appropriations United States Senate Washington, D.C. Dear Chairman Cochran and Ranking Member Byrd: Thank you for affording me the opportunity to provide my views regarding our nation’s critical homeland security needs for your consideration as you prepare the homeland security appropriations bill for the 2005 fiscal year. This Committee has played a key role in overseeing the federal homeland security effort, including crafting the legislation to create the new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and conducting oversight on a range of homeland security programs government-wide. The Department has begun to take shape and implement improvements in our homeland defenses, but it and the other federal homeland entities cannot do their jobs without sufficient resources. We must recognize that the homefront of the war on terrorism needs the same vigorous support we are providing our troops overseas. Unfortunately, once again the Administration’s proposed budget for homeland security programs – adopted largely intact in the Senate Budget Resolution – leaves critical gaps in our urgent homeland security effort. The Administration is requesting $47.4 billion for homeland security programs throughout the federal government for FY2005, including about $27 billion within DHS and about $20 billion for homeland programs in other departments and agencies. This does represent some new resources for homeland security, but the increase is less than meets the eye and far less than is truly needed. For instance, discretionary spending for DHS increases only about 4 percent, and would essentially maintain the status quo rather than allowing for critical new security initiatives. Some key programs – most notably aid to first responders, our homeland security “troops” – will actually be cut. As detailed below, I have identified almost $14 billion in critical homeland security needs beyond the Administration’s Budget. Others may help identify additional homeland needs, however, I believe this list identifies many of the most pressing and well-documented shortfalls. First Responders I am advocating $6.3 billion in FY2005 above the Administration’s request to help ensure that first responders have the equipment, training, and other resources they need to prevent, prepare for, and if necessary respond to acts of terrorism. This level will restore drastic cuts the Administration has proposed to established grant programs for first responders, while also increasing overall funding for several programs under the Office of Domestic Preparedness. Last year, a report by an Independent Task Force sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations – composed of distinguished former government officials, including a director of the CIA and the FBI, and led by our former colleague Senator Warren Rudman – found that, at current levels, our nation would fall nearly $100 billion short of meeting the needs of our first responders. The Task Force report listed a number of urgent needs left unmet due to lack of funding – including obtaining interoperable communications equipment, enhancing urban search and rescue capabilities, and providing protective gear and weapons of mass destruction remediation equipment to first responders. How has the Administration responded? With a stunning 31% cut in key funding programs for first responders. My proposal to spend an additional $6.3 billion on first responders would reverse the Administration’s ill-advised cuts, and provide funding closer to the levels recommended by this distinguished, bi-partisan Task Force. There is bipartisan Senate support for increasing federal aid to first responders, as evidenced by the vote during consideration of the Budget Resolution to add nearly $1.3 billion in such funds to the President’s request. Within this overall increase, an additional $4 billion should be dedicated to boost the preparedness of first responders. One key focus of this funding should be on helping first responders obtain interoperable communications equipment so they can “talk to one another” when responding to events. In addition to equipment, this would include funding necessary for planning, evaluation, deployment, and training on the use of modern interoperable communications. Achieving this basic capacity is a top priority for first responders across the country, and one that a federal task force estimates could cost $18 billion or more. Only a handful of states have made the necessary improvements and the Director of SAFECOM, the principal entity coordinating the federal government’s interoperability initiatives, estimates that, at the current rate, it will take twenty years to achieve true communications interoperability in our country. We need a focused federal effort to move toward interoperable communications. The Budget should also include $1 billion in FY2005 to fully fund the SAFER Act (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) that is necessary to hire 10,000 additional fire fighters. The SAFER Act authorizes the U.S. Fire Administration to award $7.6 billion in grants over seven years to career, volunteer, and combination fire departments for the purpose of hiring new firefighters to help communities attain 24-hour staffing to provide adequate protection from fire and fire-related hazards. At a time when budget cuts have forced some local jurisdictions to actually reduce the number of first responders, this funding is necessary to bring fire departments across the nation closer to the minimum level of staffing necessary to meet OSHA safety standards. I would also provide an additional $250 million to restore the President’s proposed cut to Fire Assistance Grants, which provide direct support to fire departments across the country. The need is great – in FY2003 almost 20,000 fire departments requested approximately $2 billion under the program. I also advocate an additional $1.04 billion to restore proposed cuts to three primary law enforcement assistance programs at the Department of Justice – the Local Law Enforcement Block Grant (LLEBG), the Edward Byrne Memorial Grant Program (BYRNE), and the Community Oriented Policing Services Program (COPS). Funding levels for these three programs have declined more than $1.8 billion since FY2002, representing a dangerous and unwise reduction at a time when the threat from terrorism, but also domestic crime, has clearly increased. My proposal would address the legitimate concerns of our nation’s law enforcement community that these cuts from FY2004 levels could significantly weaken the ability of state and local law enforcement agencies to protect our communities from both traditional acts of crime and the new specter of terrorism. Port and Container Security Port and container security is another critical concern, given the millions of containers entering our country through ports. Expert assessments have concluded that vulnerabilities with these containers and facilities could be used to wreak havoc on our lives, not to mention our economic well-being. The risk extends beyond our shores, since a container being used to smuggle a bomb or terrorists themselves might travel far inland to its final destination before being opened or searched. While the Administration does propose some increases for Coast Guard personnel, and to improve the security of containers before they reach U.S. shores, it ignores other critical needs. The physical security of the nation’s ports is an urgent priority, and I advocate $500 million for port security grants in FY2005. The Administration’s own Coast Guard has estimated it will cost more than $7 billion over the next decade just to comply with newly passed port security laws and make basic necessary physical security improvements at the ports. More will be needed to implement sophisticated security systems that will close vulnerabilities without putting a stranglehold on trade. In December, the GAO stated that “funding is the most pressing challenge” to accomplishing needed security improvements. Yet in the face of these huge security gaps at the ports, the Administration has proposed only $46 million to help meet these costs in FY2005. While the federal government cannot fund all of the necessary homeland security infrastructure improvements, the need and risk here are too compelling not to do more. The Senate has already taken a step in this direction by approving an amendment to the Budget Resolution that provides an additional $225 million for these grants. The President’s Budget also under-funds the Deepwater program to modernize the Coast Guard’s badly aging fleet and equipment. The Coast Guard operates the 39th oldest naval fleet in the world (out of 41) at a time it is being asked to accept ever-greater responsibility for the safety of U.S. citizens. By its own admission, the Administration’s status quo budget proposal will result in a 22-year timetable for the planned “modernization.” I advocate a far more aggressive investment – an additional $1.2 billion in FY2005 – to put the Deepwater Initiative on a 10-12 year timetable and give the Coast Guard the tools it needs to perform its rapidly expanding responsibilities. Of course, an increase of this magnitude would warrant careful oversight by the Coast Guard and Congress to ensure that the contracts are managed properly. Finally, Operation Safe Commerce, a program designed to test innovative ideas and pilot programs in container security, while receiving minimal funding and support from the Administration over the past 3 years, has been zeroed out for FY2005, effectively killing one of the most promising container security programs. I urge that the program be continued and funded at $25 million in FY2005. And while the Administration has provided some additional funding to increase staffing for the Container Security Initiative, an additional $15 million (for a total increase of $40 million) will allow for truly aggressive and effective expansion of this program, which stations Customs officers at overseas ports to help safeguard containers before they reach our shores. Bioterror While the President’s Budget for FY2005 appears to make significant increases for bioterrorism, on closer inspection there is little new spending and the Budget actually cuts key existing initiatives to help defend against a bioterror attack. The apparent surge in spending for countermeasures under the BioShield program is actually an accounting anomaly: the $2.5 billion claimed by the Administration for FY2005 is part of a multi-year advance appropriation provided by Congress last year to cover that program’s funding needs for the next four years, and funding is expected to remain level in the coming year. There are some new funds to improve surveillance to detect a bioterror attack, which I support, yet these increases come largely from cuts in existing bioterror programs at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Department of Heath and Human Services (HHS). The most egregious is a $105 million cut in bioterrorism preparedness grants to state and local health departments. The Administration is cutting another $39 million in grants to develop hospital surge capacity and eliminating the Metropolitan Medical Response System, both programs aimed at responding to a bioterrorism attack or any other mass casualty event. These are the very programs that the HHS official in charge of terrorism preparedness has said should be increased. Indeed, one public health official likened the Administration’s funding proposal to “laying off firefighters while investing in new hoses and ladders.” A recent report by the Trust for Public Health concluded that communities are “only modestly better prepared” to respond to a bioterror attack than they were before the 9/11 attacks. Therefore, I am advocating spending an additional $1.5 billion to fight bioterrorism. Of this amount, I would direct $500 million to CDC grants that help state public health departments care for and track infectious disease outbreaks. This spending would restore the proposed cut of $105 million, and boost spending by about $400 million. I also advocate a $1 billion increase in funding for the Health Resources and Services Administration, which provides money to help hospitals increase capacity, training, and supplies. After September 11th, the American Hospital Association developed a needs assessment which estimated that the Nation’s financially-strapped hospitals needed roughly $11.3 billion in additional medicine inventories, protective clothing and equipment for personnel, decontamination facilities, and other basic response capability. At the current funding levels, it would take twenty years to close this gap. This additional funding for the hospital grants would restore the Administration’s proposed cut and move us closer toward bioterror preparedness. Transportation Security We must do more to secure our transportation systems – a fact that has been acknowledged by some previously and should now be evident to all in the aftermath of the horrific Madrid train bombings. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is charged with securing all modes of transportation, yet has thus far focused almost exclusively on commercial aviation. The FY2005 Budget request continues this trend, with almost no money requested for non-aviation security improvements. I am advocating an additional $1.6 billion to help secure our nation’s rail and transit systems, and to make further improvements to our aviation security. Specifically, I am advocating $500 million for passenger and freight rail security. Again, the Madrid bombings have shown us just how dangerous a vulnerability our rail systems can be. Nor can we dismiss Madrid as an isolated assault. Even before those attacks, the chairman of the Administration’s National Intelligence Council had indicated that terrorists have looked at the possibility of derailing trains, including those carrying hazardous materials. GAO has documented security concerns regarding rail transport of hazardous materials, and the Senate Commerce Committee approved legislation in the 107th Congress to address a range of rail security needs. Unfortunately, that effort did not succeed and the Administration is not seeking funds for this effort. The $500 million I propose would provide money for DHS to conduct detailed risk assessment and security planning, and to help pay for protective measures such as deploying chemical and biological detection equipment, and training employees in terrorism response measures. I urge another $620 million for transit security grants, such as subway and bus security, to address critical security needs that have already been identified by GAO. The American Public Transportation Association has been actively surveying its members, and has already identified at least $6 billion in security needs. Most of these transit authorities are financially strapped and unable to make these security improvements without federal help. While there has been more attention to aviation security, critical needs persist in this area too. I advocate $200 million to help develop and install technology to detect explosives on persons being screened (not just their baggage); $200 million for further installation of explosives detection systems in airport baggage handling areas; $25 million for research and development of cargo screening technologies and for interim screening by existing means; and $50 million for physical screening of airport workers, many of whom now have access to secure areas of the airport without undergoing such checks. Other Critical Needs The Administration’s Budget falls short on the people and technologies we need to secure our borders, and I advocate an additional $1.3 billion for these needs in FY2005. Congress has authorized significant increases in border personnel in the USA Patriot Act and the Border Security Act, yet the Administration appears far from meeting these directives. A Congressionally-chartered task force (the Data Management Improvement Act or DMIA Task Force) continues to document serious understaffing at the borders and states in its December 2003 report that “insufficient staffing is universally recognized as one of the most critical issues that needs to be addressed.” Even some of the reported increases may be illusory: for instance, the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection claims to have met the goal of tripling Border Patrol agents along the Northern border, yet appears to have done so largely by transferring agents from the Southern border. Now, we have the alarming news that DHS is freezing hiring for border positions because of an apparent budget shortfall. In short, we need a more robust presence at the borders and I am advocating an additional $300 million to hire additional border security personnel, including ensuring sufficient agricultural inspections. While this hiring is essential, it is not sufficient. The 2003 DMIA report also identified shortfalls in needed equipment, technologies, facilities, and infrastructure for border personnel. The report calls for such items as improved communication devices, surveillance systems, and fingerprint identification equipment. The list of needs is far longer, and I am urging an additional $500 million above the President’s budget proposal to address some of these requirements. I would also like to devote an additional $500 million for the development and implementation of IT systems to improve border security. Most of this additional money would pay for the rapid development and deployment of biometric technologies to help keep suspected terrorists and other inadmissible aliens out of the country. Congress mandated these technologies in the Border Security Act as part of a required entry-exit system, but the Administration is far from developing – or paying for – a comprehensive plan to enact such a system. On critical infrastructure, the Administration is disturbingly behind on efforts to conduct key threat and vulnerability assessments that can form the basis for detailed security planning and protective measures. Former Virginia Governor James Gilmore, chairman of a Congressionally chartered commission on homeland security, testifying before Congress in September stressed the critical need for threat and risk assessments to guide the nation’s homeland security efforts, and lamented the ongoing lack of such guidance. The President’s recent directive on this issue gives Secretary Ridge another year just to develop a plan to “identify, prioritize and coordinate the protection of critical infrastructure and key resources.” Further, the budget request appears to actually cut resources for DHS work in this area. Clearly this is urgent work and I am advocating an additional $500 million to expedite these vital assessments and begin critical protective measures in key areas such as chemical plant security. Mail Security The vulnerability of the mail system, and those who operate and use it, has passed from theory to fact, and we must do more to ensure the security of this vital network. Following the anthrax attacks through the mail in 2001, Congress provided emergency funding to the United States Postal Service (USPS) to help acquire and deploy equipment and materials to recover from, detect, prevent, and protect against such attacks, and to protect the safety of postal employees and the public. While much progress has been made, USPS needs to put additional measures in place that will help prevent and protect against future attacks, such as equipment that can detect biological or chemical agents transmitted through the mail and new ventilation and filtration systems in mail processing facilities. Although the President’s FY2005 Budget does not include any funding for USPS, I support the USPS request for $780 million to purchase and install such equipment. I appreciate this opportunity to comment on issues of interest within the purview of the Governmental Affairs Committee. Thank you for your attention to these concerns. Sincerely, Joseph I. Lieberman Ranking Member