Lieberman Says We’ve Come A Long Way; Have A Long Way To Go Before Securing the Safety of the American People

WASHINGTON – Governmental Affairs Committee Ranking Member Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., one of the original architects of the Department of Homeland Security, issued the following statement Tuesday at a press conference marking the first anniversary of the department’s existence.

Good Afternoon and thank you all for coming. Congressman Turner and I called this press conference today to share with you our assessments of the nation’s domestic defenses one year after the Department of Homeland Security opened its doors. Let me state clearly that I’m confident our nation is a safer place than it was before September 11, 2001, because we do have a Department of Homeland Security. But let me also state clearly, that we are not as safe as we should be at this point because the Bush Administration has failed to provide the department with the focused vision, leadership, and funding that a mission of this magnitude requires. Since September 11th, we have redefined what it means to provide for the country’s common defense, as our Constitution requires us to do. It no longer applies solely to prosecuting foreign wars to protect our security and preserve our democratic way of life. It now covers defending against home-front against by an amorphous enemy unbound by either rules of war or generally accepted battlefield standards. The overseas war on terror has been waged with a higher level of resources and focus than the defensive war on terror at home. As a result, the American people remain vulnerable to an array of threats from terrorists bent on doing us terrible harm within our own borders. We know this. The administration knows this. And numerous independent and bipartisan analysts know this. In the words of one expert task force, we remain “dangerously unprepared.” Now, it is time – in fact it is past time – to get together across party lines to get America prepared. First, let’s look at what we have achieved. The department creates a focal point that provides sustained, high-level attention to homeland security and an accountable, Cabinet-level official. It also creates a clear partner for state and local governments, and the private sector, so we can work collaboratively to shore up our domestic defenses. We have seen a number of encouraging developments in airline passenger and baggage screening. And the Container Security Initiative, which stations Customs officers at overseas ports, has begun “pushing the borders back” to identify potentially hazardous containers before they arrive in U.S. ports. So, we have taken some significant steps towards making our nation more secure. For that I thank the thousands of Department of Homeland Security employees. But there is much more that can and must be done to confront the dangers that exist. The President’s fiscal year 2005 budget is the clearest evidence that the domestic war on terrorism is still being shortchanged. The budget includes an alarming 30 percent cut, government-wide, for first responders. One independent panel suggested it would take a $98 billion investment in our first responders over five years to get to where we need to be. So, I am calling for a $14 billion increase to the President’s $47 billion homeland security budget for next year – nearly half of which would go to first responders. The Homeland Security Act was meant to bring new clarity to the analysis and dissemination of intelligence by giving DHS authority to collect information from, and share it with, all homeland security players — federal, state, and local. But President Bush unfortunately gave in to the status quo and created the new Terrorist Threat Integration Center under the Director of Central Intelligence rather than at the Department of Homeland Security, where it belongs. That has left T-TIC without a real link to state and local law enforcement and dependent for staff and funding on the intelligence community. It is a recipe that risks repeating past errors, and one that ignores the clear direction of Congress in the Homeland Security Act. The names of thousands of known terrorists still cannot be accessed from one database that combines the 12 terrorist watch lists now scattered among nine federal agencies – even though the administration has said on several occasions over the past two years that a consolidated terrorist watch list would be a major defensive system, and that it was getting it done. Now, we learn that it will not be getting it done until December 2004 – which will be more than three years after September 11, 2001. That is an unacceptable – and in my view, irresponsible – lapse in leadership. The Homeland Security Act was meant to provide support and resources to state and local governments. Here, too, the promise has not yet been kept. For example, first responders still lack interoperable communications equipment they need to effectively respond in a crisis. They need more money to help buy the equipment and clearer federal leadership to resolve technical and jurisdictional logjams. The Homeland Security Act was also supposed to bring new leadership and resources to bear on transportation and port security, critical infrastructure protection and bioterrorism preparedness. But the federal effort in each of these areas remains incomplete and, in some cases, confused. We have not completed threat and vulnerability assessments of our critical infrastructure. Hundreds of chemical plants – that if attacked – pose grave risks to millions of Americans remain unsecured. And the administration has refused to support efforts to require improvements in chemical plant safety. The Transportation Security Agency is charged with securing all modes of transportation, yet it has much work still to do in aviation and has barely begun to address other systems such as rail, buses, and highways. So, we’ve come a long way, but we have a long way to go before we fulfill the promise to adequately secure the safety of the American people. The truth is we have no more urgent priority. Therefore, I call on the President and his Administration to provide the vision, resources and leadership the Department of Homeland Security needs – but to work together with members of Congress from both parties so we can say we are working together to counter the still clear and present danger of terrorism. See link below for the Top Ten Homeland Security Priorities for 2004.