Lieberman Says Homeland Security Cannot Be Done on the Cheap

WASHINGTON – Governmental Affairs Committee Ranking Member Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., Thursday charged the Bush Administration with trying to shortchange homeland security by denying adequate funding, especially to state and local governments and first responders. Lieberman’s statement came amid debate on an amendment by Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., to shore up homeland security funding by $5 billion. Following is the full text of the statement:

I am deeply troubled that the Bush Administration has not done more since September 11, 2001, to close major gaps that remain in our domestic security. Former Senators Gary Hart and Warren Rudman – who presciently predicted a major terrorist attack within our borders before it actually happened – produced a new report last September in which they observed that “America remains dangerously unprepared to prevent and respond to a catastrophic terrorist attack on U.S. soil. In all likelihood, the next attack will result in even greater casualties and widespread disruption to American lives and the economy.”

Mr. President, this is a sobering prediction. And it has convinced me to make it a personal priority and mission to ensure that the Department of Homeland Security has the resources it needs and deserves. The fact is homeland security costs money – to train people in the skills they need, to buy the right equipment, and to pay the men and women in every community across America – on police forces, in fire departments, and emergency medical services – who are our front line troops in the war against terrorism here at home.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors reported last year that cities will have already spent more than $2.6 billion on additional security costs between September 11th , 2001, and the end of 2002 – with precious little help from the federal government. Seventeen months after the September 11th attack, thousands of communities across the country have been unable to press ahead to meet this awesome security challenge. Our firefighters are left holding the ladder. Our police departments are put in fiscal handcuffs. Washington is demanding expensive new programs without offering states the financial support to implement them. And the states, according to the National Governor’s Association, are already experiencing their worst budget crises since World War II.

Governors will have a harder time developing and implementing emergency preparedness plans. And local communities may not even be able to pay for critical security projects and programs that are already underway. Federal agencies, too, are being under-funded — with the Customs Service, the Coast Guard, and others coming up hundreds of millions of dollars short of what they need to protect us. Indeed, it may surprise some people – though not the first responders – to know that all the money appropriated by Congress in the days immediately following the terrorist attacks in 2001 has not reached its destination, and the administration has exercised no leadership that I can see to speed up the process. For example, according to a December 2 report from the Office of Management and Budget, FEMA had obligated only $33 million out of some $214 million in budget authority for states for emergency management planning and assistance. That is truly shameful.

A year ago, in his FY2003 budget, President Bush proposed spending $3.5 billion on first responders for training, equipment, and planning to respond, if necessary, to a major terrorist attack. Of course, none of that money has been appropriated, and now, as we try to resolve outstanding FY2003 appropriations, I am distressed to learn that our Republican colleagues are seeking to cut $1 billion from the homeland security funding levels Senate appropriators agreed to last year. Mr. President, homeland security cannot be had on the cheap.

Therefore, I am proud to co-sponsor Senator Byrd’s amendment. This amendment would make good on our promises to put in place critical new programs to boost homeland security and, most important, to help state and local governments and first responders bear the costs of their front line responsibilities in the war on terrorism. First, it would provide the full $2.5 billion in homeland security funding in last summer’s emergency supplemental appropriations bill. This is money – for first responders among others – that was approved by Congress but which the President blocked from actually being spent. The amendment also restores about $1 billion in cuts to the FY2003 spending bills below what Senate appropriators agreed to last summer and fall. Finally, the Byrd amendment provides money for critical new programs. It includes $850 million to help states and localities implement the President’s smallpox vaccination plan. Another $585 million would go to implement the new port security law – legislation that passed overwhelmingly in November but which to date has not been funded.

We will not be any more secure if we just pass these security blueprints, then walk away. Taken together, the amendment will provide $1.4 billion to state and local governments, including grants to make first responder radio equipment compatible – a priority ever since we learned of the communications problems that hampered September 11th rescue workers. The amendment will provide an additional $1 billion for border security, including funding new initiatives to identify suspicious container traffic and to keep track of who enters and exits our borders.

Mr. President, I truly hope the Bush administration hasn’t settled on a strategy to talk tough on homeland security, while withholding the money necessary to make that security possible. So far, their approach has been all talk and little action, but we can’t defend the country on words alone. It’s time to make our commitment to our domestic defenses every bit as strong and bipartisan as our commitment to our armed forces. If we won’t do that now-with September 11th still fresh in our minds and hearts and our communities still struggling to protect themselves-when will we?