WASHINGTON – Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Me., Tuesday hailed passage of their bipartisan bill to enact remaining or poorly implemented 9/11 Commission recommendations, saying it will help secure the nation against terrorist attacks as well as natural disasters. The Senate approved S. 4, the Improving America’s Security Act of 2007, by a vote of 60-38.
“When this bill becomes law, we will have taken a critical step toward building a safer and more secure America for the generations to come,” Lieberman said. “This will ensure the American people are better protected against the consequences of natural disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina, than they are today. And we will have done everything possible to make sure no other Americans suffer the loss that so many experienced after the brutal terrorist attacks of 9/11.”
“This legislation continues the work of Congress to strengthen homeland security and build upon the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations. I believe it will help make our nation safer,” said Senator Collins. “Our legislation’s broad-front attack on the threats we face will ensure good value for every dollar our nation spends to improve our defenses at the federal, state, and local levels. It will provide appropriate transparency and accountability into the government’s security decisions. It will also strike an appropriate balance between increased security and our cherished civil liberties.”
S.4 would increase risk-based homeland security grants to states and localities, improve information sharing among all levels of government, restrict terrorists’ ability to enter the U.S., and create an interoperable communications grant program for first responders. It also strengthens privacy rights and civil liberties.
Specifically, the Lieberman-Collins bill will:
-Authorize $3.105 billion for each of the next three years for the homeland security grant program to increase prevention and preparedness for terrorist attacks. The grants will be distributed overwhelmingly based on the risk to an area from a terrorist attack. The funds would be allocated through Urban Area Security Grants, State Homeland Security Grants, Emergency Management Performance Grants, and emergency communications and interoperability grants.
-Create a dedicated interoperable grant program within FEMA to help state, local and tribal governments build communications systems that allow first responders from different organizations and different jurisdictions to talk with each other in a disaster.
-Improve the government’s ability to disrupt terrorists’ travel and infiltration of the U.S. by requiring the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State to strengthen the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) through improved reporting of lost or stolen passports, requiring countries to share information about prospective visitors who may pose a threat to the U.S., and authorizing an “electronic travel authorization” system through which travelers would apply in advance for authorization to enter the U.S.
-Strengthen the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board by giving members fixed terms and requiring them to be Senate confirmed; by expanding responsibilities to inform the public; and by providing the board with subpoena power through the Attorney General.
-Establish a voluntary certification program for private sector preparedness to provide companies with a clear roadmap for strengthening preparedness.
-Improve counter-terrorism information sharing within the federal government and among federal, state and local officials by making the Program Manager of the Information Sharing Environment permanent, creating standards for state and local fusion centers, assigning federal intelligence analysts to them, and creating intelligence fellowship programs for state and local officials.
Provisions related to rail, aviation cargo, mass transit security, and nuclear proliferation that came out of the Commerce, Banking, and Foreign Relations Committees were melded with the Homeland Security Committee bill on the floor.
“This bill takes an ‘all-hazards’ approach to homeland security,” Lieberman said. “It not only strengthens our defenses against the threat of a terrorist attack, but also prepares all levels of government to respond better to natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina.”