WASHINGTON – Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., Tuesday hailed Senate passage of a bill establishing a cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security to meet terrorist threats against Americans at home. The bill, based primarily on legislation introduced by Lieberman last year and approved by the Governmental Affairs Committee in July, will bring about the largest government reorganization in more than a half century.
The department to be created includes a new intelligence division that would, for the first time, receive in one place all law enforcement and intelligence information pertaining to domestic terrorist threats, then fuse, analyze, and strategically disseminate it to the necessary authorities. Lieberman noted the consolidation of more than two dozen government agencies under the leadership of an accountable secretary would marshal America’s resources to meet an unprecedented threat.
“This legislation will improve the security of all Americans in the age of insecurity that we entered after September 11th,” he said. “Too few gaps have been closed in the 13 months since Senator Specter and I proposed legislation creating a Department of Homeland Security, and the five months since the President decided to support the idea. But this is a critical step forward and a vast improvement over the administration’s initial proposal.”
The new department – influenced by recommendations from the Commission on National Security/21st Century, chaired by former Senators Gary Hart and Warren Rudman – will be organized into five major divisions: border and transportation protection, emergency preparedness and response, intelligence analysis and infrastructure protection, immigration affairs, and science and technology. Working together, they are designed to pinpoint the nation’s security vulnerabilities, develop strategies to close them, and swiftly bring about needed reforms.
The bill would also establish a comprehensive science and technology division designed to spark public- and private-sector development of the next generation of homeland security technologies to guard against terrorist threats. Included in this division is a $500 million innovation fund designed to bring the best minds in academia, government and business to bear on the toughest security problems America faces.
“Today, homeland security is institutionally homeless,” Lieberman said. “Everyone’s in charge, and therefore no one is in charge. Under this bill, as under our Committee-approved legislation, homeland security has finally found a home.”
The Governmental Affairs Committee held over 18 hearings beginning September 12, 2001, on a range of homeland security issues. Lieberman first introduced legislation to create a new Homeland Security Department in October 2001, after Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, introduced similar legislation in the House. In May, 2002, the Governmental Affairs Committee approved a revised version of Lieberman’s original bill; and in July, the committee approved an updated version of that bill, which closely tracks the bill passed today.
Lieberman reiterated his disappointment over the administration’s insistence upon stripping homeland security workers of basic rights and protections and pledged vigorous oversight to ensure the administration does not abuse its newfound authority.