The Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee held a hearing today entitled “Homeland Security: The Next Five Years” featuring testimony by Sec. Chertoff as well as testimony by a group of local leaders and experts: LA County Sheriff Lee Baca, NYPD Deputy Commissioner for Counterterrorism Richard Falkenrath, CFR’s Steve Simon, and Reform Institute senior fellow (and HLS Watch contributor) Dan Prieto.
The most interesting part of the hearing was an exchange between Sen. Carper of Delaware and Sec. Chertoff on chemical security legislation. (It’s about 1 hour, 54 minutes into the audio clip found here). Sen. Carper brought up the current procedural impasse on chemical security legislation in the Senate, the result of a dispute between the HSGAC and the Environment & Public Works Committee over jurisdiction and a small handful of contentious issues. Carper asked Chertoff for advice on how the Senate could resolve this impasse and move forward on this legislation, and was essentially pleading with Chertoff to take a stronger role in pushing for the passage of this legislation.
Sec. Chertoff’s responded by detailing the instructions that he has given to “his lawyers” from DHS in their interactions with Congress on this issue, and then admitted that he has remained aloof from Congressional activities on this issue, describing his role as being a member of “the peanut gallery.”
If Sec. Chertoff is really concerned about passing chemical security legislation – consistent with his call in his Georgetown speech last Friday for Congress to pass a bill – then he needs to get out of the “peanut gallery” and become directly involved in finding a compromise among the various stakeholders in Congress on this issue. The differences on the issues among the key stakeholders here can be resolved if DHS and the White House make this a priority in the next few weeks. If, on the other hand, this legislation slips to the 110th Congress, then we’re back at square one, an outcome that is reckless and irresponsible, one that leaves millions of Americans unnecessarily overexposed to the threat of an attack on a chemical facility.