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Homeland Security

Statement of Joseph I. Lieberman

Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs

"Investing in Homeland Security: Streamlining and Enhancing Homeland Security Grant Programs"

May, 01 2003

Thank you, Madame Chair, and thank you for holding these very valuable hearings on how we can reform and reengineer federal homeland security programs to meet the needs of states, localities, and the first responders and preventers who protect us. I appreciate your bipartisan leadership and partnership. I also want to thank Secretary Ridge for being here.

One of the federal government’s first responsibilities under the Constitution is to provide for the common defense. In the face of the threat of terrorism, that means more than building a mighty Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard. It means strengthening the shared security of our fifty states and their cities and towns, as well as our territories.

That takes money. To train and employ top-flight police officers, firefighters, and public health professionals. To buy new biometric security systems, install information sharing networks, and develop biological and chemical testing and treatment capabilities. To improve security around water plants and air ports. To revamp aging ports and protect chemical and nuclear plants. These tough jobs and countless others can’t be accomplished with wishful thinking or a magic wand. And they cannot be accomplished by placing an unfair share of the burden on state and local governments who are already facing the worst fiscal crises in decades.

One challenge we face is clearly to improve the process for distributing funds to state and local governments. We need to make the funds flow faster, cut unnecessary red tape, and make certain that programs are adequately coordinated so that we get the most out of the dollars once they are appropriated. I agree that there needs to be more flexibility in the use of federal funds – and I am pleased to co-sponsor your legislation, Madam Chairman, to provide state and local officials with some the ability to move funds between accounts when it is necessary. I think we can certainly make a lot of improvements here. But this is more than just a red tape problem. It’s also a red ink problem.

We didn’t spare a penny in fighting the war in Iraq. Our resources matched our rhetoric and our resolve. But here on the home front, there’s a gap between our resources and our rhetoric and resolve. And the gap is about the size of Texas.

That’s unacceptable and it is unfair—and worst of all, it leaves our citizens in danger. States and localities are being spread thinner than ever at the moment they can least afford it. Their deficits are growing. Their homeland security and healthcare costs are rising. The economy remains sluggish. The fiscal straitjacket is getting tighter by the day.

And in response, the Bush Administration offers no economic leadership to help get all of them and all of us out of the fix. In fact, it wants to pile on hundreds of billions of new tax cuts that won’t work, which will only make things worse, while shortchanging homeland security and other needs.
Asking states and localities to bear a greater share of their security burden now, of all times, is like asking a runner to complete a tough new course in record time with bricks strapped to his back.

I have called for $16 billion in funding in the next fiscal year above and beyond the President’s request for homeland security, much of which would go straight to states and localities—to provide our first responders, our public health networks and more with better troops, better training, and better technology.

Let me give you one quick example of an urgent challenge facing many state and local governments that my plan would address: interoperable communications equipment. First responders must have the ability to talk to each other in an emergency. They don’t need that equipment ten years from now. They need it now. If police, firefighters, and emergency medical workers across jurisdictions can’t talk to each other, they simply cannot react swiftly and effectively in a crisis that requires mutual support.

We have been painfully aware of this for a long time. The problem first got major media attention over 20 years ago after an Air Florida plane crash. It reared its head again after the first bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993, and after the bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal building in 1995. And of course, firefighters lost their lives because of it on September 11, 2001.

If ever a country could fix this once and for all, we’re living in it. Think about the genius of our innovation economy. Our communications technology is so advanced that we could view a war half a world away, in real time, on the television. But just last week, fire officials from different jurisdictions right here in the D.C. metropolitan area told this Committee that their departments still could not communicate with one another if both responded to a regional emergency. The Public Safety Wireless Network—a project of the Justice and Treasury Departments—issued a report two weeks ago which stated that only 14 states have upgraded communications equipment enough so that public safety agencies can talk to each other during a terrorist attack or other emergency situation. The remaining states remain vulnerable during crises that require communications between police officers, fire fighters, paramedics, and other emergency personnel.

This problem is still with us—because the federal government hasn’t made it a priority. Too little leadership, vision, and money. We have basically left it up to states, and many of them need our help. When will the Administration come to realize that loose change can’t bring about real change?

It’s true that a long-range solution to this problem will take several years to implement. But I don’t want to wait for the perfect fix. We have the technology to put working interoperable communications systems in place now. We have the way—if the Bush Administration finds the will.

The Bush Administration also needs to find the will to support the SAFER Act, which will invest $7.5 billion over 7 years in communities across the country to hire new firefighters. Our fire departments are losing strength just as their responsibilities are increasing. That’s a recipe for disaster.

Finally, I urge the White House to wake up to what’s happening in city halls and state capitals, and with police departments and state law enforcement agencies around the country as a result of the sagging economy and inadequate federal support. The fiscal crisis facing state and local governments has forced one in four cities to lay off police officers in the past year, according to the National League of Cities. That is creating a double danger—threatening our homeland security and the fight against domestic crime at the same time. In 44 big American cities the picture is particularly stark. Since 2000, their police forces have been shrinking by 2 percent per year, and their crime rates have been going up by nearly 5 percent per year. Why, then, would the President’s budget for next year eviscerate the COPS program and other key law enforcement grants? What sense does that make? That directly compromises the fight against terrorism by placing an ever growing burden on the backs of our police forces.

Madame Chair, I hope we focus not only on how to modify these key homeland security grant programs to get resources out to our states and local communities more quickly. That’s very, very important—but I urge us all to realize that getting the money out faster is just one part of the solution. Our states and localities need more support. More funding. And more leadership from the President on down. I hope we can work together to provide the brave, experienced, and hardworking men and women who protect us from terrorism the genuine assistance that they deserve and that our security demands.

Thank you.


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