Sen. Joe Lieberman Testimony Before House Committee On Government Reform, National Security Subcommittee, Department Of Homeland Security

Thank you, Congressman Shays, ladies and gentlemen.  I?m happy to be able to testify before your subcommittee today on what is one of our most urgent priorities right now, and that is, to direct the attention of the federal government – and the vast resources at its disposal – to safeguarding the American people from terrorist attack here at home.

It?s often said that on issues of national defense, politics stop at the water?s edge.  I think this has mostly been the case in the aftermath of September 11 and I think it must absolutely be the case as we work – and work quickly – on what may be the single most important accomplishment any of us achieves during our time here in Washington:  to establish a Department of Homeland Security.

Government restructuring is no easy task under any circumstance.  There will be powerful constituencies objecting to the wholesale realignment of certain agencies and programs, and employees of those agencies will feel insecure about their futures.  But the good news is the White House is now on our team.  President Bush?s landmark proposal to consolidate various federal agencies, including as many as 170-thousand employees, is a bold step. I welcome it and I look forward to working with the President to turn it into reality.

The fact is, the catastrophic events of September 11th are evidence that the status quo is not sufficient.  But when President Bush appointed Governor Ridge last October, he gave his new advisor the most difficult and most important job in the federal government – without the power to get that job done.  Over the last few months in particular, it has become painfully clear just how uncoordinated existing federal bureaucracies can be, and how little relative power anyone in Governor Ridge?s position has to really take control of the reins.  History has changed America forever, and the government, too, must evolve  to respond effectively to the new war on terrorism.

It a sign of strength that, after spending months defending the current structure of the homeland security office, the President has recognized its shortcomings and corrected course, offering a proposal strikingly similar to a bipartisan bill that I introduced last October with Senator Arlen Specter.  That bill, reintroduced this Spring with Senator Graham as an additional original cosponsor, was voted out of the Governmental Affairs Committee a little less than three weeks ago.

Our bill would combine the Customs Service, the Coast Guard, the Border Patrol, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and a handful of other, smaller programs into a full-fledged cabinet department, led by a Senate-confirmed Secretary, with direct budget authority over the department?s agencies.
In addition, we would create a White House Office of Combating Terrorism, a statutory, Senate-confirmed position, designed to coordinate anti-terrorism government-wide – with the new department, the intelligence agencies, but also the military and the diplomatic community.

The President?s vision of the overall structure of the department is very similar – although it goes further.   He includes the Transportation Security Administration, a number of Health and Human Service programs, and the Secret Service.  Under his proposal, the Department?s four divisions would focus on Border and Transportation Security; Emergency Preparedness and Response; Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Countermeasures; and Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection.  To me, these four divisions are right on target.

I do, however, have some concerns about the president?s proposal, primarily about intelligence and law enforcement coordination.  The White House blueprint would have the FBI, CIA and other relevant agencies filter their own intelligence and relay it to a single focal point within the new agency.  This means the new department would act as a passive consumer of information rather than an aggressive analyst and synthesizer.  The bill we have authored addresses this gap through the White House Office of Combating Terrorism, which would be a more muscular version of the advisory position currently occupied by Governor Ridge.  The White House director, with statutory and budget certification authority, would be charged with coordinating the intelligence agencies, along with the Defense and State Departments and others, in an effort to avoid the mis-communications that contributed to the September 11 tragedy.

One person must be able to take on the almost 100 federal agencies that have to do with protecting the American people at home and tell them, “Get together, work together, and do it now, or else face the consequences.?

As we proceed, we must also take care to respect and protect the many non-homeland security functions of the agencies that we seek to incorporate into the new department.  The Secret Service also polices counterfeiting; the Coast Guard, among other things, cleans up oil spills.  In building a homeland defense agency, we need not?and will not?compromise any other important government responsibility.

Important as these concerns are, they are design details.  I know we are all committed to building this new structure and will work through the specifics, without pride of ownership, to decide upon the most efficient and effective structure possible.

But we must work quickly and carefully.  We must recall the sense of anger and focus that we had in the days immediately after the attacks of September 11th, and press on.  The ongoing danger of additional terrorist attacks leaves no time for bickering over turf.

The battle now begins – but with a broad, bipartisan group of us in Congress and the White House on the same side, committed to raising our guard and bringing down bureaucratic barriers in order to meet the threat of terrorism with all our intelligence, courage, acumen, and strength.