Statement of Joseph I. Lieberman
Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs
"Investing in Homeland Security, Challenges on the Front Line"
April, 09 2003
Madam Chairman, thank you for holding this hearing on the challenges facing the first responders on whom we depend to protect our homeland.
This hearing comes almost 19 months after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks awakened our nation to the absolute necessity of fully supporting the men and women who are on the front lines of this struggle. That day demonstrated that when our country is attacked, it is the police, fire fighters, and emergency management technicians who will be the first to the scene of a disaster, risking their own lives to save others.
But the attacks and subsequent events have also demonstrated that, in some crucial ways, those heroic first responders are not getting the support they need and deserve from the Federal government. We now know that many of our first responders have not received the training or equipment they need, that they cannot communicate with one another during emergencies, and that in many places, their ranks are simply not strong enough â€“ in part because many reservists and Guardsmen were called up to help fight the war in Iraq â€“ to do the job we have asked them to do.
This is shameful. It must end. Weâ€™ve made some slight progress in the past few months â€“ some of the resources promised many, many months ago by the President in the FY 03 appropriations bill and supplemental are finally available. However, first responders continue to tell us that we still have not provided enough to make sure that all of our first responders are trained and equipped, and that they are all adequately staffed, to meet the challenges they face. They have told us as much â€“ but too many still refuse to listen.
For example, the city of Los Angeles has identified more than $70 million in overtime expenses it has incurred since the September 11 attacks. Itâ€™s police and fire departments also need a common communications system. The city has spent nearly $200 million beefing up security at its airport and shipping port, as well as upgrading police, fire, and health departments. Even so, Jack Weiss, an L.A. City councilman, says the city is as vulnerable now as it was 17 months ago.
In New York, which has borne a tremendous security burden since September 11, 2001, is operating its police department with 4,000 fewer men and women than it did two years ago and many of the officers and supervisors who would be first to respond to an incident still have not received any special equipment or training to respond to an attack with unconventional weapons.
The story is the same in Massachusetts, where a survey by the Boston Globe found that the 10 largest police departments have 424 fewer officers than they did a year ago and will lose at least 50 more by July 1 as a result of state budget cuts in local aid.
In Arkansas, the Governor has stated that there is no way they can do the job of protecting homeland security with current resources, or without more federal aid than is currently in the pipeline. The biggest single need he identified is to upgrade emergency communications for first responders because in a terrorist attack, or even a natural disaster like a tornado or flood, the various jurisdictions that would respond donâ€™t have the ability to communicate. Other governors have expressed similar sentiments.
In my own state of Connecticut, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. who is president of the National League of Cities, says the city has yet to receive any money for homeland security and thus has been able to outfit only about 10 percent of its 300 firefighters with protective equipment for responding to a chemical or biological attack.
The International Association of Fire fighters, whom we will here from today, have consistently told us that the nationâ€™s fire fighters need more troops, more equipment, and more training to adequately protect our citizens and meet the challenges that they face. The National Association of Police Organizations tell a similar story - and state that homeland security funding needs to be increased to alleviate officer layoffs, additional overtime, un-replaced officer reassignments and technology needs to combat terrorism - while departments continue to address domestic crime.
Madam Chairman, the only conclusion we can make is that our nationâ€™s homeland security blanket is full of holes. And we are not doing enough to mend them. In fact, the expectation has been created that sufficient Federal funds are on the way â€“ but in too many communities the reality is unlikely to meet the expectation. The threat to our country from terrorism is high. State and local budgets are in crisis and many local police and fire departments are actually facing cuts. At the same time, the demands they are facing have increased to cope with the high level of threat. Yet, the Administration has consistently opposed efforts to provide the level of assistance our local first responders need, choosing instead to provide massive new tax cuts to those who need them least. And even the increases that have been provided are misleading â€“ as they come at the cost of existing law enforcement assistance programs. We have to do better.
Madam Chairman, in addition to providing more funds, we also have to ensure that the funding we provide is delivered with a minimum of red tape and delay. Thereâ€™s been a lot of talk these past few months about duct tape; but what we say and do about red tape is just as important to the fight against terrorism. This hearing, and others we will have to look closely at the way these programs work, will help us learn directly from those they are intended to help how we can make them better. The current array of programs is clearly too cumbersome, too confusing, and in many ways inefficient. We need to understand what works and what doesnâ€™t. And we need to make sure that we fix what is broken while leaving alone that which is working well.
So I want to thank you for holding this hearing and thank our witnesses for sharing their expertise with us. Our country is facing an unprecedented challenge â€“ and we have to put aside old ways of thinking and provide the resources necessary to meet the challenges that we face. We have to work diligently and improve these funding programs where they need to be improved, to ensure that they meet the objectives that we have set. This hearing is an important step in that direction.
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