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Homeland Security

Statement of Joseph I. Lieberman

Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs

""Investing in Homeland Security: Challenges Facing State and Local Governments""

May, 15 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. Madam Chairman, I appreciate your leadership and bi-partisanship in focusing the Committee on how we can improve programs that really are vital to the security of the American people. I also want to thank our distinguished witnesses for being with us today.

Earlier this week, our nation was reminded that, despite the success of the war in Iraq, the war against terrorism has not been won. All Americans pray for the families of those killed and injured by this latest act of cowardice and evil in Saudi Arabia. These terrorists will never relent in their hatred for America --so we must never falter in our fight to defeat terrorism overseas or in protecting our people here at home.

The attacks only underscore the fact that one of the federal government’s first responsibilities under the Constitution is to provide for the common defense. Today, in the face of the terrorist threat, that means more than building a mighty, well-equipped, and well-trained 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. Today, the readiness of our firefighters and police officers and public health professionals is every bit as important to our national security as the readiness of our soldiers, sailors, and airmen.

And homeland security cannot be done on the cheap. It takes serious money. To employ, train, and equip top-flight first responders. 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 seaports 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.

Madam Chairman, I am convinced that we in the federal government have to do much more to fulfill our responsibility.

One challenge we face is clearly to improve the way we distribute funds to state and local governments. We need to make the funds flow faster, cut unnecessary red tape, provide greater flexibility, and make certain that programs are adequately coordinated. Madam Chairman, I am pleased to co-sponsor your legislation to provide state and local officials with some of the ability to move federal funds between accounts when it is necessary. That’s a smart and long-overdue reform.

But this is more than just a red tape problem. It’s also a red ink problem.

Across the country, states and localities are being spread thinner than ever at the moment they can least afford it. Homeland security and healthcare costs are rising. Deficits are growing. But the economy isn’t. I must say, it makes no sense to me that, as we lose jobs and struggle to meet our national needs, the Bush Administration’s top priority is to push for billions of new tax cuts that won’t improve the economy but will shortchange homeland security and other urgent needs.

I have called for $16 billion in funding for homeland security in the next fiscal year above and beyond the President’s request, much of which would go straight to states and localities. This includes $7.5 billion above the President’s $3.5 billion for first responders, including $4 billion in funding to ensure that our first responders can do something as basic as communicate with one another in a crisis.

It is simply unacceptable that in most states and regions, including right here in the Washington D.C. region, local police officers, fire fighters, paramedics, and other emergency personnel responding to an attack cannot talk to one another. America has some of the most advanced communications technology on the planet, yet 20 months after 9/11, we’re still struggling with something as urgent and basic as this. That doesn’t speak well to the Administration’s priorities.

I also believe that we in the federal government need to help pay salaries and overtime for local first responders. 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.

I am fighting to restore law enforcement grants cut by the Bush Administration, and am proud to stand with a bipartisan coalition of Senators to support the SAFER Act, which would help communities across the country hire some 70,000 firefighters nationwide over the next seven years. We are in a war. We should be strengthening our frontline troops, not eroding them.

Those are just two critical priorities among many. And both underline the fact that fixing the way these programs operate, while important, is just one part of the solution. Our states and localities also need more support. More funding. And more leadership from the President on down. That’s what it will take to fulfill our Constitutional duty to provide for the common defense and build a more perfect union.

Thank you.

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