Nominations of George Foresman as Under Secretary for Preparedness and Tracy Henke as Assistant Secretary for Grants and Training

WASHINGTON- Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Ranking Member Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., delivered the following statement at the nomination hearing of George Foresman, to be the Undersecretary for Preparedness, and Tracy Henke, to be the Executive Director of the Office of State and Local Government Coordination and Preparedness:

“Madam Chairman, thank you for convening this hearing to consider two nominees to very important positions at the Department of Homeland Security. (George Foresman, has been nominated as the first Under Secretary for Preparedness, and Tracy Henke has been nominated to become Executive Director of the Office of State and Local Government Coordination and Preparedness, reporting directly to the Undersecretary for Preparedness.) Welcome to both of you, Mr. Foresman and Ms. Henke. As the Chairman has said, these are the first two nominations for positions in the Preparedness Directorate which has been newly created by Secretary Chertoff’s second stage review. I asked the Secretary to hold off on his reorganization of DHS’ emergency preparedness and response structure until our Committee completes its investigation into the total lack of preparedness at all levels of government exposed by Hurricane Katrina. The disarray surrounding that disaster has shaken the confidence of the American people in their government’s ability to protect them, and I an hopeful that our investigation will produce recommendations that would be helpful to DHS’ internal management structure. I have told the Secretary that this Committee may write legislative changes after we have thoroughly reviewed the record and are confident we know everything about what went wrong during the most devastating natural disaster in our nation’s history. I am pleased, however, that the President has nominated an experienced emergency manager like Mr. Foresman for the position of Under Secretary for Preparedness at DHS. Mr. Foresman has been a first responder himself, a leader on homeland security in the Commonwealth of Virginia, Vice-Chairman of the Gilmore Commission, and he is widely respected in the emergency management community. The Under Secretary for Preparedness will have a critical role to play helping our country prepare for all-hazards – including everything from the next terrorist attack to the next major hurricane or other natural disaster. He will be the leader of our efforts to protect critical infrastructures like the financial sector, telecommunications, energy and chemical plants, many of which could expose more than a million Americans to the risk of death or injury. He will help prepare for a computer virus that could cripple the technology on which we rely for most everything and he will help prepare for a biological strike that could kill hundreds of thousands of people. I am particularly interested in Mr. Foresman’s ideas for the Chief Medical Officer under his command, a position I have strongly advocated for as part of my Bioshield II legislation. These are all vital areas of concern which, unfortunately, are not as secure as they should be four years after September 11. Earlier this week, the 9/11 Public Discourse Project, formerly the 9/11 Commission, issued its final report card on our nation’s lack of preparedness. Some of the grades were fair. Some I thought were not fair. While the former Commissioners acknowledged that we are safer, the clear message was that we have not done enough to keep the American people as safe as they deserve to be. Madam Chairman, if confirmed Mr. Foresman will be in a position to address some of the outstanding problems the Public Discourse Project identified. Top among them is the inability of our nation’s first responders to talk to one another across jurisdictional and disciplinary lines. We saw the tragic consequences of this on 9/11. Four years later – despite repeated statements by the Administration that interoperability is a priority – the same communications chaos occurred during the Katrina recovery effort. DHS simply has provided neither the leadership nor the resources necessary to eliminate this problem. Under Mr. Foresman’s leadership, Virginia was one of the first states to develop a strategic plan for interoperability, although obstacles – including inadequate and inconsistent funding – remain, as they do in most states. You will have a similar opportunity at DHS, Mr. Foresman, and I hope you run with it. If you are confirmed, you will be in a position to help forge a national strategy to achieve interoperability, strengthen federal leadership, and provide sufficient funding – all of which are components of legislation Senator Collins and I have authored and which awaits action on the Senate floor. Madam Chairman, the Under Secretary for Preparedness and the Director of the Office of State and Local Coordination and Preparedness will also have the opportunity to address homeland security funding. While debate has focused on the funding formula for homeland security grants, less attention has been paid to the fact that funding for first responders has been dramatically reduced three years running. That is unacceptable and I hope we can turn it around. The Administration’s FY06 DHS budget proposal would have slashed the key state homeland security grant programs by more than 30 percent. The appropriations bill approved by Congress cuts funds for the State Homeland Security Grant Program by half and the risk-based Urban Areas Security Initiative grants by 14 percent. This is unconscionable – tantamount to disarming in the middle of a war. I look forward to hearing the views of both of you on this matter. Finally, I want to express some concerns about the nomination of Ms. Henke. It is essential that homeland security grants programs are administered with integrity and free from political interference. Ms. Henke, I am concerned by allegations that while you were at the Department of Justice, the administration of the Bureau of Justice Statistics became politicized. Some of your actions may have undermined the office’s reputation for objectivity and independence. In one incident earlier this year, you demanded that the Bureau of Justice Statistics delete from a press release information about significant racial disparities in the treatment of motorists stopped by police. You insisted over repeated objections from Larry Greenfeld, the Director of the office. The release was never issued because Mr. Greenfeld considered the edited version to be misleading. Soon after, Mr. Greenfeld – a respected public servant with 23 years of service in the federal government – was told without explanation that he was being dismissed from his position. I hope today you will address questions about your involvement in this episode. My concerns occur in the context of recent disclosures that DOJ political appointees overruled career staff in sensitive cases involving minority rights. In August, a team of lawyers and analysts at the Civil Rights Division recommended rejecting a Georgia voter identification law because it was likely to discriminate against African American voters. They were overruled the next day by political appointees. This month we learned that top DOJ officials had overruled a unanimous determination by civil rights staff that a Texas redistricting plan violated the Civil Rights Act. In this context, I am concerned that the considerable discretion that Congress has given the Department in the administration of homeland security grants be exercised in a fair and transparent manner. I intend to seek your assurances in this respect today. Madam Chairman, if confirmed, these two nominees will have to work closely with our nation’s first responders, with the private sector, and with state and local officials to assure that we do a much better job of preparing for whatever may come. I thank you for holding the hearing and I look forward to hearing the witness’ testimony. Thank you, Madame Chairman.”