Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

Floor Statement – Sen. Byrd

7/10/2006, Floor Statement by Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) upon consideration of H.R. 5441, the FY 2007 Homeland Security Appropriations Act

Mr. BYRD. Mr. President, the Senate has before it the fiscal year 2007 Homeland Security appropriations bill. I commend our chairman. I am debating whether I should say “who has no peer.” I think I will stick with that. He has no peer when it comes to knowledge of the subject matter and as one who cares deeply about his country, his committee, its work, and about the needs that exist for appropriating adequate funds. I commend him. I commend his staff. They have done excellent work on this legislation.

This chairman makes it his business to know what are the facts concerning the needs out there; who makes it his business, once he knows the facts, to go after the weaknesses, the soft spots, and, with a great determination, to do the task ahead.

I commend the thousands of men and women who are on the front lines defending America’s homeland. They do serve the Nation every hour of every day. Senator Gregg has tried to allocate limited–and I say limited, I stress the word “limited”–resources to respond to those threats that present the greatest risk. He does not have the funds to deal with all the threats, but he has sought to respond to those threats that present the greatest risk. In doing so, Senator Gregg has included a number of improvements to the President’s budget, particularly with regard to border security, baggage explosives detention, fire grants, and emergency management. However, there is a limitation to the ability of this chairman, or any chairman–a limitation to the ability of the Appropriations Committee–to address the problems in the President’s budget.

The bill is $515 million below the President’s request, and only 4 percent higher than last year. There are funding shortfalls for port security, border security, rail security, and first responder grants. These shortcomings are largely a result of the administration’s ill-considered proposal for the Appropriations Committees to enact an increase in the aviation passenger tax. While the President claims credit for a robust budget for securing our borders, his actual budget is hollow, hollow, hollow. The White House knew when it sent the budget to the Congress that the funding relied on a tax hike on air travelers–a tax hike that the Congress had already rejected. How about that.

The Appropriations Committees lack jurisdiction to increase the aviation passenger tax and, of course, we could not do so in this bill. As a result of the President’s proposal, the funding for homeland security in this bill is not only lean, it is also very lean. So I again commend Chairman Gregg for his masterful work in putting together this bill, but serious security problems remain.

The Department of Homeland Security is now in its fourth year of existence, as Senator Gregg has explained. While many of its legacy agencies, such as the Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection, and the Secret Service, continue to operate effectively, the Department itself certainly has become the gang that can’t shoot straight. Nearly 5 years after 9/11, key issues, such as fixing FEMA, such as establishing chemical security standards, such as inspecting cargo on commercial aircraft and inspecting air passengers for explosives, such as securing our ports and making sure that State and local governments have effective mass evacuation plans, are all languishing at the Department. The list of issues that are festering at the Department goes on and on, and these problems are not merely bureaucratic hassles. These are issues that imperil the safety of Americans–Americans–as they go about their daily lives. That is you and you and you and you out there in the plains, the prairies, the Rockies, the Alleghenies, you citizens, the safety of you citizens as you go about your daily lives.

Only 5 percent of the 11 million cargo containers coming into this country are opened for inspection. We know that terrorists desire to bring a dirty bomb into this country. Over 6 billion pounds of cargo is placed on commercial airlines each year, and virtually none of that cargo is inspected. How about that. Do you feel any safer? How do you feel about that, now that I have said that?

The Environmental Protection Agency reports that 123 chemical plants located throughout the Nation–and in particular in the Kanawha Valley in southern West Virginia–could each potentially expose more than a million people if a chemical release occurred. How does that make you feel? Yet according to the Government Accountability Office, only 1,100 of the 15,000 chemical facilities in this country are known to comply with voluntary security standards. Yet the administration has done virtually nothing to either require compliance or create incentives for the chemical industry to secure its facilities. Only 37 of the 448 airports in this country have acquired new technology to inspect airline passengers for explosives as they board airplanes. Does that make you nervous when you go up to the ticket counter to buy a plane ticket?

There are in this country, in prisons, more than 550,000 criminal aliens in prisons in this country who have not been identified by the Department for removal from the country. Does that make you feel any safer? How about that. When they get out of prison, they may be walking the streets in your neighborhood. Where? In your neighborhood. They need to be removed from this country as soon as they finish their prison terms.

The so-called millennium bomber crossed the U.S.-Canadian border in Washington State intending to blow up the control tower at Los Angeles International Airport. Just last month, 17 homegrown–get that, 17 homegrown–alleged terrorists were arrested in Toronto. Yet there are only 1,000 Border Patrol agents stationed along the northern border. That means that one lonely Border Patrol agent is responsible for patrolling 5.5 miles of the border.

Nearly 5 years after 9/11, most of our first responders still do not have interoperable communications equipment.

Can you believe that? Nearly 5 years after 9/11, most of our first responders still do not have interoperable communications equipment. Can you believe that? I have pressed for that most basic need for our first responders for nearly 5 years. This subcommittee is on top of its work, but it needs more resources.

We all learned after Hurricane Katrina that FEMA is no longer up to the task of responding to a catastrophic disaster, whether the disaster is a terrorist attack or a natural disaster. According to the administration’s own statistics, only 27 percent of State and 10 percent of urban area plans were rated as adequate to cope with a catastrophic event.

In addition to failing to address known vulnerabilities, the Department of Homeland Security is turning into a case study for failed management. The GAO and the DHS inspector general have documented numerous financial management and procurement failures at the Department. The Department of Homeland Security information systems are not secure. The GAO alone has completed 494 evaluations of DHS programs. The DHS Office of the Inspector General is spread so thinly that it was unable to follow through on 616 different allegations of wrongdoing last year.

The Department continues to allow valuable homeland security dollars to gather dust in the Treasury rather than getting the money out to State and local governments where the money can actually be used to secure our ports and mass-transit systems or to purchase interoperable communications equipment.

In the fiscal year 2006 Homeland Security appropriations report, we directed the Department to send Congress a report by February 10 providing an expedited schedule for awarding homeland security grants. Last week, 5 months late, we got the report. The report detailed the Department’s plan to award 20 different grant programs in the last month of the fiscal year. Congress approved funds last October, yet the funds will sit here in Washington for almost a year. Last week was the 1-year anniversary of the London train bombing. Yet under the Department’s plan rail and transit security funding that was appropriated by Congress last October will not be awarded until this September. The same malaise applies to grants to secure our ports, our buses, for securing buffer zones around nuclear and electrical plants, and grants to hire more firefighters. What is the administration waiting for? Does there have to be another horrendous attack with thousands of deaths before this Department will shake out of its nearly comatose state?

The Department’s record should cause every citizen–that is you and you and you and you–alarm. The Department’s record should cause every citizen alarm. It is a record that was entirely predictable. While I supported the creation of a Department of Homeland Security, I voted against the legislation that created this unwieldy behemoth. In consolidating 22 agencies into 1 department, the Congress created an organization that was destined from the beginning to have failures. This was a department that was created out of political expediency in the basement of the White House, not through careful analysis.

In the months following 9/11, the President feared that the Congress was taking the initiative on securing the homeland. So the President directed a small White House team, cloaked in secrecy in the bowels of the White House, to draft a reorganization of homeland security agencies. No security experts were present. The political wizards conjured up this witch’s brew. The result was a massive governmental reorganization rushed through the Congress in a matter of months. Do you remember that? I remember it. I expressed my concerns about it.

As I said in the fall of 2002–did you get that–in the fall of 2002, 4 years ago:

If we take this giant step, our homeland defense system will likely be in a state of chaos for the next few years.

People may begin to read in the newspapers about startup problems in this vast new Department. These kinds of high-profile debacles could carry over to the Transportation Security Administration, the Customs Service, FEMA, the Coast Guard, or any of the agencies.

That is what I said.

For this administration, the illusion of security–like seeing a waterfall in the desert, an illusion–created by this Department and spawned in the White House cellar was more important than a careful plan for actually making Americans safer. Perhaps I should say that again. For this administration, the illusion of security created by this Department and spawned in the White House cellar was more important than a careful plan for actually making Americans safer. For this administration, it is OK to do homeland security on the cheap. For years, I have come to this floor, and others have come to this floor, and documented examples of the ways in which the administration relegates homeland security to a low priority–border security, rail and transit security, port security, chemical security, funds for firefighters, and the list goes on and on.

This year, the administration proposed to cut the firefighter grant program by 45 percent. It was proposed to eliminate the SAFER Program, a congressional initiative that helps local governments hire more firefighters. The Department failed to transmit to the Congress the statutorily mandated needs assessment of our firefighters. I wonder whether the report is locked in someone’s desk because it concluded that our fire departments still lack the resources necessary to purchase equipment capable of responding to a terrorist attack.

Nearly 5 years after 9/11 and nearly 1 year after Hurricane Katrina proved that our first responders are not ready to deal with a catastrophic disaster, the President proposes to cut first responder grants by 13 percent below fiscal year 2006 and 33 percent below fiscal year 2005.

There is another example of the rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul approach the administration takes to securing our homeland. Last week, the administration notified the Congress of a serious shortfall within the Federal Protective Service, the agency that secures over 1 million Federal employees and visitors to our Federal buildings. Rather than request additional funding for the shortfall or increase the fees charged to Federal agencies to cover the shortfall, the administration is proposing that we cut funding for explosives countermeasures and for detaining and removing illegal aliens to pay for the shortfall. Can you imagine that? The President tells the Nation that border security is a critical priority for our national security–and he is right, that is what it is. The President pushes the Congress to get tough on illegal immigration, and then his administration proposes to cut funding for detaining and removing illegal aliens. And in a world where we see explosions of improvised explosive devices killing American soldiers every day and with the Madrid and London train bombings, the administration wants to cut funds for developing explosives countermeasures here in the United States. What kind of confusion reigns at the other end of the avenue, at the White House? Does Presidential rhetoric now excuse rolling the dice with the safety of millions of Americans?

Today, the Senate has before it the fourth Homeland Security appropriations bill that the Senate has considered since the Department was created. Under the leadership of the first chairman of the subcommittee, Thad Cochran, and under the leadership of the current chairman, Senator Judd Gregg, the Senate has striven to provide the Department with the resources it needs to do its job and to give clear direction for improving its efforts to secure the homeland. And it has been an uphill fight.

I am pleased that, in this bill, Chairman Judd Gregg included a number of provisions that will improve the operations of the Department of Homeland Security. I hope that the administration downtown will listen to his lead and that the administration will follow his lead.

Hardly a week goes by that the administration does not remind Americans of the continuing threat of terrorist attacks. As we debate the bill this week, I will offer two amendments to fill some of the gaps in border security and port security that were created as a result of the administration’s unworkable proposal to finance $1.2 billion of the Department’s budget through increased aviation passenger taxes. I will also support amendments that will be offered to increase funding for first responders and for rail and transit security. I encourage Congress to demand more of the Department of Homeland Security and more than rhetoric from the President.

Again, I applaud Chairman Gregg for the expertise he brings to the bill, for the labor he expends, for his determination, his concern, and for the foresightedness he brings to the bill.

I yield the floor.

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