July 25, 2007

THE FISCAL YEAR 2008 DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY APPROPRIATIONS ACT

Mr. President, I rise today to express my support for the Fiscal Year 2008 Department of Homeland Security Appropriations bill.   This is a strong bill, one that makes a comprehensive investment in our nation's security.   It provides $37.6 billion for homeland security programs, $2.2 billion more than President Bush's request and $2.8 billion more than the amount appropriated for Fiscal Year 2007.  

 

Just two weeks ago, Michael Chertoff, Secretary of the Department of the Homeland Security, said he had a "gut feeling" that our nation is at an increased risk of a terrorist attack this summer.   While I would hope that his warnings would be based on more than a feeling, the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) released last week supports Secretary Chertoff's instinct.   Based on the facts before it, National Intelligence Council judged that "the U.S. Homeland will face a persistent and evolving terrorist threat."

 

Al Qaeda has "protected or regenerated key elements of its Homeland attack capability" and is now as strong as it was in 2001.   The NIE states that "the United States currently is in a heightened threat environment."

 

It is disheartening, then, that while the intelligence community is discovering evidence of an increased threat to this country, President Bush has recommended cutting funding to grant programs that secure our ports and airports and bolster local law enforcement and fire departments around Maryland and around the country.

 

I commend Senator Byrd and our other colleagues serving on the Appropriations Committee for providing an 8 percent increase in homeland security funding and wisely investing those funds in the full spectrum of activities affecting this country's safety.   That includes border security, immigration enforcement, port and aviation security, and support for our first responder community.

Mr. President, the increased funding in this bill for port and aviation security and first responders will has a profound impact on Maryland.

 

Let's start with the Port of Baltimore.   It's one of our country's most important ports and a significant economic engine for the entire region, providing more than 33,000 jobs for Marylanders and generating $1.5 billion in revenue every year.   It is the nation's eighth largest port, handling about 2,000 ships and 31 million tons of cargo each year.

 

With the Port of Baltimore's size, proximity to Washington, work load, and productivity come increased risks.   That's why I was a strong proponent of the Security and Accountability for Every (SAFE) Port Act of 2006.   That bill authorized more funding for programs that are critical to securing our ports, including risk-based port and cargo security grant programs, the development of a long-range ship tracking system, development of a biometric transportation security card for port workers, and development of a system to identify high-risk containers.

 

You can imagine my dismay and the distress of the public safety officials and emergency planners in Maryland when President Bush, who signed the SAFE Port Act, didn't propose to fund many of the new activities that legislation authorized.   I am grateful the Appropriations Committee recognizes the risks that the Port of Baltimore and other ports around the country face and address them in the bill before us.   This bill would provide $15 million above President's Bush's request to hire additional port security inspectors, conduct vulnerability assessments at 10 high risk ports, and develop a long-range vessel tracking system so we can monitor ships as they travel around the world.

 

Most important, this bill provides $400 million in port security grants, $190 million above President Bush's request, as authorized by the SAFE Port Act of 2006.   These grants will provide Maryland with critical support to improve perimeter fencing, underwater detection capability, and enhanced video surveillance systems.

 

I am pleased the Committee recognizes the importance of the Coast Guard's presence at Curtis Bay, Maryland, and notes that it is a "critical component of the Coast Guard's core logistics capability" and "directly supports fleet readiness."

 

The Committee further recognizes the vital role the Yard has played in "the Coast Guard's readiness and infrastructure for more than 100 years" and recommends "that sufficient industrial work should be assigned to the Yard to maintain this capability."   I agree and intend to do my best to ensure that the Committee's recommendation is followed.

 

The bill provides $15 million above President's Bush's request to address a shortage of Coast Guard boats and qualified personnel to allow the Coast Guard to enforce security zones and protect critical infrastructure.

 

The bill provides $60 million above President's request for the establishment of Coast Guard interagency maritime operational centers authorized by the SAFE Port Act of 2006, which will improve collection and coordination of intelligence, increase information-sharing, and unify efforts among Federal, State, and local agencies.  

 

This bill gives equal attention to transportation security, providing $3.7 billion for transportation security improvements, $764 million more than President Bush's request.   This funding includes $400 million for rail and mass transit security grants, $529 million for explosive detection systems, and $41 million for surface transportation security.   The bill has $4 billion for passenger and baggage screening.

 

These grants will provide much-needed funding to protect airports in Maryland and across the nation.   In the past, I have worked with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to bring the latest high-technology devices to Baltimore, including state-of-the-art equipment to scan baggage and passengers for explosives.   I'm proud that BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport was the first airport in the nation to have a fully-federalized screening workforce after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

 

Despite continued threats to aviation security, however, President Bush sought to cut funds to purchase and install explosives detection equipment at airports by 17 percent.

 

Again, I commend my colleagues for providing comprehensive aviation security.   The bill provides $66 million for TSA air cargo security, $10 million above President Bush's request. When combined with the $80 million included in the Fiscal Year 2007 Emergency Supplemental Appropriations bill, these funds will put TSA on a path to screen all cargo placed on passenger aircraft.   The bill provides $529.4 million, $89.4 million above President Bush's request, to purchase and install explosives detection equipment at airports around the country.   I am disappointed, however, that the Committee was forced to shift $45 million from container security to secure pathways such as air freight.   We should not be in a position where we have to make those kinds of choices.

 

We must do more, Mr. President, to ensure the safety of this nation's chemical facilities.   Enhanced s ecurity requires strong regulatory standards and policies attuned to the risks faced by the communities surrounding such facilities.   In December 2006, the Bush administration proposed regulations to preempt state and local governments from adopting stronger chemical security protections than those proposed by the Federal Government.   While the Federal Government must ensure that chemical facilities meet minimal security standards, States must retain the ability to set stricter standards that address the unique risks their communities face.

 

This bill ensures the essential right of States to pass and enforce tougher chemical site standards than existing federal standards, and it provides an additional $15 million to help States meet those standards.

 

Despite tragically ample proof in the wake of Hurricane Katrina that State and local governments were unprepared for a major natural disaster or terrorist attack, the President's Budget proposes a $1.2 billion cut in vital homeland security grant programs, programs that provide critical support to local law enforcement and firefighting departments.

 

I am pleased that the Appropriations Committee did not recommend President Bush's request, but decided instead to boost funding by $1.8 billion over President Bush's request to help our States and cities improve their ability to respond to attacks and natural disasters.   These allocations include $560 million for firefighter equipment grants; $525 million for the State Homeland Security Grant Program ($275 million more than President Bush's request); and $375 million for law enforcement and terrorism prevention grants.

 

The Committee also provided the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) with $100 million to rebuild its core competencies and improve management.   I hope the agency will make wise use of those funds.

 

Emergency preparedness officials in Maryland are especially happy to see increased allocations in FEMA's budget for pre-disaster mitigation.   Increased preparedness funding will lead to long-term savings by decreasing subsequent damage claims.   But most important, increased preparedness ensures we are ready to keep people out of harm's way.

 

I am especially pleased that this bill grants critical resources to develop and implement improved detection and communications technology, improve communications, and improve and streamline intelligence-gathering.   Better technology and intelligence are critical to keeping our communities and our country safe.

 

Congress can provide resources, but we cannot legislate appropriate action by DHS officials.   All of us remember with outrage how DHS officials placed the Washington, D.C. and New York City metropolitan areas in a low-risk category for terrorist attack or catastrophe.   That decision, if it had been allowed to stand, would have cost those regions millions of dollars in anti-terrorism funds and it would have had a devastating impact on their ability to respond to attacks.

 

Last year, many DHS grants were not released until September 29, 2006 - at the very end of that fiscal year. When the money Congress appropriates just sits around in Washington for more than eleven months, Americans certainly aren't any safer.   The delay in releasing funds undermines the budgets and plans of emergency response agencies in all of our communities.   This Appropriations bill would penalize DHS for releasing grants late - a reduction of $1,000 per day when mandated timelines aren't met.   When I asked the heads of agencies in my State about the penalty, they liked the idea.   They have been hamstrung waiting for guidance and grant money from DHS.

 

This bill takes other unusual measures such as requiring the Department to submit expenditure plans for key programs to the Committee for review before funds will be released.   We saw the devastating results of incompetent management in the disastrous days before, during, and after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005.

 

At the beginning of this month, the Washington Post reported that the Bush administration had failed to fill roughly one-quarter of the top leadership posts at DHS, "creating a 'gaping hole' in the nation's preparedness for a terrorist attack or other threat."  

 

These are serious problems the administration needs to address right away.  

 

Earlier this year, the Senate passed S. 2, a bill implementing many of the remaining 9/11 Commission Recommendations.   Ever since I served on the House Select Committee on Homeland Security, I have strongly supported the 9/11 Commission's recommendations that we distribute homeland security money based on risk and "be mindful of threats" increased security measures will pose "to vital personal and civil liberties."   S. 2 increases the amount of grant money distributed based on risk and it strengthens protections for our most cherished liberties.

 

I hope the Senate will get a chance to pass the conference report to this bill before the August recess and I look forward to sending it to President Bush for his signature.   It nicely complements the Appropriations bill we are poised to pass in the next day or two.

 

Nearly six years ago, on a sunny September morning, Americans received a terrible wake-up call telling us we can be attacked here and we need to do more to protect ourselves.   Congress took that responsibility to heart, passing legislation to empower the President to protect the nation.

 

I am proud to offer my support for this critical bill.   Given the current state of our nation's security and the most recent NIE, it is imperative that we pass this bill immediately; there is no time for delay.