Senator Collins Reflects on Department of Homeland Security’s First-Year Accomplishments

WASHINGTON, D.C.—On the first anniversary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Susan Collins (R-ME) today submitted the following statement for the record. Senator Collins’ Committee has jurisdiction over the Department of Homeland Security.

It has been nearly two and one-half years since a monstrous act of war was committed against the United States. The American people responded to the attacks of September 11th with courage—courage that was evident that horrible day in the heroic actions of the passengers on Flight 93, in the firefighters and police officers at Ground Zero, and in the Pentagon employees who led their co-workers to safety through fire, smoke, and rubble.

That courage is evident today in the men and women of our armed forces on the front lines in the war on terrorism and in the ordinary Americans across the country who carry on normal, productive lives, refusing to be terrorized by terrorism.

President Bush and Congress responded by recognizing that this was a different kind of war with a different kind of enemy. Together we saw that this enemy used as a weapon the freedom and openness that Americans cherish but that it despises. We realized that our efforts to defend our nation against this unconventional and unprincipled enemy were hampered by the lack of a unified strategy. To revisit a phrase used so often in the aftermath of September 11th, we were not connecting the dots. We knew that turf battles, communication gaps, and interagency rivalries could no longer be tolerated. The stakes were too high.

The Department of Homeland Security is perhaps the most significant manifestation of the efforts undertaken by the President and Congress to create that unified strategy, to connect those dots, to coordinate this urgent new mission. The Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs, which I chair, played a key role in creating the Department and is helping it to succeed.

My committee swiftly confirmed eight talented and dedicated individuals to lead the Department, including Secretary Ridge himself. We have held hearings and investigations on a wide range of homeland security issues, from the President’s plan to better coordinate intelligence analysis and sharing, to unraveling the tangled web of international terrorism financing, to protecting American agriculture from sabotage, to securing our seaports. We have approved bills to reform the Department’s multi-billion dollar state grant program, to provide cutting edge technology to first responders, to help the Department attract talented individuals with sought-after skills, and to ensure accountability within DHS’s financial system.

Now the Department is one year old. And in the span of just one year, the Department of Homeland Security under the leadership of Secretary Tom Ridge, has made significant, even remarkable, progress.
The melding of 22 federal agencies and 180,000 employees has occurred with some of the resistance we all expected, but without the widespread turf battles many predicted. The level of cooperation and coordination within this new Department, though not perfect, is a vast improvement over the previous, ad hoc structure. The initial focus upon airport security has been expanded to include other vulnerabilities, such as seaport and border security. The Department has distributed billions of dollars to our first responders—the local and state emergency personnel on the front lines—for the equipment, training and guidance to carry out their vital missions. And we will continue to work with Secretary Ridge to ensure that a steady stream of funding is available for those efforts.

Of course, challenges lie ahead for this new agency, for the President and for this Congress. As we change, so does our enemy. As we address vulnerabilities, he seeks out new ones to exploit. As we move to protect our most high-profile targets in our major cities, we must always be aware that our small cities, towns and countryside are at risk as well. As we improve security at our borders, we must strive to keep them open to friendship and to commerce. As we defend our nation against future attacks, we must never sacrifice the liberty that makes our nation so worthy of being defended.

In an address given February 23 before the Homeland Security Institute, Secretary Ridge offered a first anniversary assessment of his Department’s accomplishments. He charted an ambitious but necessary course for its second year, and he described his vision for the years ahead.

Secretary Ridge pledged that the Department will pursue the development of new technologies to combat terrorism. Analysis tools and detection equipment are keys to thwarting nuclear, chemical and biological attacks before they occur. We must, as he said, button up our lab coats and push the scientific envelope by forging new partnerships among government, the private sector, national laboratories and university research centers.

The Secretary pledged to strengthen information sharing among the public and private sectors and to create standards for communications and equipment. “Interoperability” is a cumbersome word, but it is one we all should add to our vocabularies. Only by improving communications and ensuring that equipment works across jurisdictions will our front-line defenders and our first responders be able to better detect attacks and to coordinate their efforts during an emergency.

Secretary Ridge pledged to integrate our port and border security systems in a way that does not impede the flow of trade and travel across our borders, a critical goal for border states like Maine. The Department’s first year produced much progress: screeners, air marshals and state-of-the art technology have made air travel safer. Traffic through our ports and our borders, which nearly ground to a halt after the attacks, is moving with speed, efficiency and greater security: more than 500 million people, 130 million motor vehicles, and millions more railcars and containers are processed at our borders every year. At the same time, container inspection has been expanded from our own shores to 16 key overseas ports.
Borders will always be a point of vulnerability for any free society. In partnership with the private sector and our international allies, we can reduce that vulnerability without unduly impeding the flow of legitimate commerce.

The Committee on Governmental Affairs stands ready to assist the Department as it begins its second year. We will continue to provide the Department with the authority it needs to protect our nation, and we will continue our aggressive oversight of its programs and activities. At times, we may disagree with the Department, but our goal is always to improve the Department and to recognize the extraordinary progress made by Secretary Ridge and Deputy Security Loy, their talented leadership team, and the dedicated men and women in the Department who work each and every day to strengthen our security.