A Comprehensive Approach to Protecting the Homeland
Mr. SCHIFF. Mr. Speaker, for much of our history the United States has not feared a direct attack. The vast expanses of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans allowed our young Nation to survive and thrive safe from the predation of the great powers of the 19th Century, and the growth of our military power in the 20th Century reinforced the belief that no hostile power could strike us here at home.
Only the British, nearly two centuries ago during the War of 1812 have mounted a sustained military campaign on American soil. Japan attacked both Hawaii and Alaska during World War II, but was unable to carry out a major ground offensive against the United States.
Our relative physical isolation fostered a sense of the invulnerability of the American people. Our borders with Canada and Mexico were relatively open, and we traditionally welcomed foreigners to our shores both as visitors and immigrants.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, American policymakers viewed terrorism as primarily a Middle Eastern and European problem. Even when the targets were Americans the acts themselves took place abroad. The hijacking of TWA 847, the Rome and Vienna airport massacres, the La Belle discotheque bombing, the seizure of the Achille Lauro and the bombing of Pan Am 103 resulted in hundreds of American casualties, but they all took place overseas.
This reinforced the deeply held belief that terrorists would not strike in this country. As a result, our Government at all levels was not configured to deal with terrorism, nor was the phrase ``homeland security'' part of our national lexicon.
During the 1990s terrorism came to America. The 1993 truck bombing of the World Trade Center began to rouse us from our complacency, and the Oklahoma City bombing 2 years later shocked Americans into the realization that mass casualty terrorism could happen here.
The fact that the Oklahoma City bombing was an act of home-grown terrorists, however, mitigated the sense of urgency that should have spurred Congress and the executive branch to take serious action to prepare for an act of international terrorism on our shores.
So, Mr. Speaker, our Nation did not see the gathering clouds for what they were, and America remained complacent. The September 11, 2001 attacks shattered that sense of security. Through the tears and their anger the American people demanded action. And the President and Congress promised swift and comprehensive measures to safeguard our Nation.
In the 4 1/2 years since 9/11, the Federal Government has undergone a massive reorganization centered on the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, and a reorganization of the American intelligence community.
Government buildings and other high-value targets are now ringed by concrete barriers. Aviation security has been Federalized, foreign visitors are routinely fingerprinted and photographed upon entry into the United States. Law enforcement has been granted greater authority to monitor the activities of people it considers potential terrorists.
But to what end? Are these measures and hundreds of others making us safer? The answer, Mr. Speaker, is that in some ways we are safer now than we were on September 11. In other ways we are not safer. And we are not nearly as safe as we should be and as we could be.
Numerous commissions and investigations at the Federal, State and local level, as well as a multitude of private studies have pointed to broad systemic and other flaws in our homeland security program.
Tonight I have a message for the American people. The Democrats have a plan to better secure our homeland. Our plan is tough and smart and it is comprehensive.
This plan is part of an overall effort to reconfigure America's security for the 21st Century, a plan that we call Real Security. Several weeks ago Members of our party from both the House and the Senate, Minority Leader Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Reid, and others unveiled a comprehensive blueprint to better protect America and to restore our Nation's position of international leadership.
Our plan, Real Security, was devised with the assistance of a broad range of experts, former military officers, retired diplomats, law enforcement personnel, homeland security experts and others, who helped identify key areas where current policies have failed and where new ones were needed.
In a series of six Special Orders, my colleagues and I have been sharing with the American people our vision for a more secure America. The plan has five pillars, and each of our Special Order hours has been addressing them in turn.
The first, building a military for the 21st century. The second, the steps to winning the war on terror. Third, protecting our homeland. Fourth, a way forward in Iraq. And, fifth, energy independence for America.
Three weeks ago, we discussed the first pillar of our plan, building a military for the 21st century. We discussed the need to rebuild our state-of-the-art military, to provide the best equipment and training to our troops, to assure accurate intelligence and a strategy for success, to build a GI bill of rights for the 21st century, and to strengthen the National Guard.
Last week, we discussed a comprehensive plan to win the war on terror which focused on a wide range of strategies to destroy the threat posed by Islamic radicalism. We outlined steps to destroy al Qaeda and finish the job in Afghanistan, to double our special forces and improve intelligence. We talked about how we will eliminate terrorist breeding grounds, the preventative diplomacy and new international leadership that must be brought to the cause in the war on terror; our goal of securing loose nuclear materials by 2010, probably the most urgent national security threat we face and stopping the nuclear weapons development in Iran and North Korea.
In the coming weeks we will be discussing a new course in Iraq to make sure that 2006 is a year of significant transition to full Iraqi sovereignty, with the Iraqis assuming primary responsibility for securing and governing their country with the responsible deployment of U.S. forces. Democrats will insist that Iraqis make the political compromises necessary to unite their country, defeat the insurgency, promote regional diplomacy, and strongly encourage our allies and other nations to play a constructive role. Our security will remain threatened as long as we remain dependent on Middle Eastern oil.
The fifth pillar and the one with the far-reaching ramifications for our country and the world is to achieve energy independence for America by 2020.
The real pillar of security that I will be addressing tonight with my colleague David Scott, the gentleman from Georgia, is the one that most directly touches on the lives of ordinary Americans. Since 9/11, the lives of Americans have been changed by the new reality of the need to secure the United States and the American people here at home. As I have just said, most experts have concluded that there are huge gaps in our preparations and that we need a new strategy to secure America. Tonight, we will introduce you to our plan.
When Democrats are in charge, we will immediately implement the recommendations of the independent bipartisan 9/11 Commission, including securing national borders, ports, airports, and mass transit systems. We will screen 100 percent of our cargo bound for the U.S. in ships and airplanes at the point of origin, and secure and safeguard America's nuclear and chemical plants, its food, and water supplies. We will prevent the outsourcing of critical components of our national security infrastructure such as our ports, our airports, and our mass transit. We will provide our firefighters, emergency medical workers, police officers, and other workers on the front lines with the training, the staffing, the equipment and the cutting-edge technology that they need. And we will protect America from the biological terrorism and pandemics including the avian flu by investing in public health infrastructure and training public health workers.
Providing real homeland security requires taking a pragmatic and comprehensive approach that uses resources to effectively maximize security and balances our offensive and defensive efforts. At any given time, we have to make hard choices about how to spend our national security dollars. The Democratic plan directs resources to those areas that minimize the risk of a terrorist attack. We rejected the reactive mentality that too often plagues the Federal bureaucracy of planning against the last attack. Under real security, we will integrate our foreign and domestic security efforts, balancing the projection of power abroad with securing the country at home. Central to this will be the implementations of the recommendations of theÐ9/11 Commission.
This commission was one of the most effective bipartisan commissions in our
Nation's history. It had access to some of the most experienced professionals and influential experts on homeland security. The commissioners weighed a wide range of issues, including emergency preparedness, transportation, critical infrastructure, and first responders and made sensible and sweeping recommendations to the administration and to Congress.
Unfortunately, the administration's performance on implementing these recommendations has been unimpressive. In fact, in December of last year the 9/11 Commission Public Discourse Project, made up of the members of the commission, issued a report card on its progress. The report card was filled with Cs, Ds, and Fs for the administration's implementation of the 9/11 recommendations.
In a statement accompanying the report card, Chairman Thomas Kean, a Republican, and Vice Chair Lee Hamilton, a Democrat, said, ``Many obvious steps that the American people assume have been completed have not been. Some of these failures are shocking.''
What we have seen over the last 4 years, Mr. Speaker, has been a failure of leadership and a failure of initiative.
I would now like to yield time to my colleague, a leader on national security issues, the gentleman from Georgia (Mr. Scott).
Mr. SCOTT of Georgia. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman. As always, it is indeed a pleasure to join you on the floor of our very distinguished Congress of the United States to address what is without a doubt the most pressing issue facing the American people, and that is security of our Nation, national security, homeland security.
I think it is very important for us to make the first step, to show that we as Democrats are indeed not only strong on security, but we are the stronger party on security.
Our legacy, our history is rich. We have built this military all the way through Democratic Presidents, from World War II with Franklin Delano Roosevelt, through the Korean War with Harry Truman, through all of the crises that we have had with Lyndon Johnson, with John Fitzgerald Kennedy; and with Bill Clinton leaving this Nation with a tremendous surplus and built a military that was capable of moving and being able to handle any threat in the world.
But then 9/11 came and then President Bush's response. And I am here to say tonight that the American people deserve much better than what we have gotten in that response from President Bush and this Republican-led Congress. Let us review for a moment 5 years.
Five years ago, 9/11 took place. And what has happened since that time? Can we say we are safer? Are our ports safer today? Obviously they are not, for not only do you and I and the rest of America know that only 5 percent of our cargo is being checked, the whole world does. The President's response to checking our ports was to turn the security over to a company that was owned by a country, the United Arab Emirates. That was one of only three countries in the world that recognize the Taliban as the ruling authority in Afghanistan.
At a time when our young men and women were dying and are dying and putting their lives on the line fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, our President, this administration, so cavalierly says let these people guard our ports, a nation that we had from our intelligence that proved to be the central banking process that handled the financing of al Qaeda and other terrorists coming through that country; yet this was the country that owned the company Dubai Ports to handle security at our ports, a country that we know from our intelligence that was the cross-trading ground for shipping nuclear material, building fusion material into Iran, who has subsequently said they want to knock Israel off the face of the Earth and then turn and do the same to the great Satan, the United States of America. That has been that response on the port security.
And as Democrats have tried to do time and time again since then, to rein that in, joined by Republicans, we were successful in defeating that move, that very foolish and unwise move made by the President and this administration. And then, as we turn then to one of the worst disasters, perhaps the worst natural disaster in the history of this country, the very first opportunity for this Nation to be responsive to the major threat to homeland security, when Hurricane Katrina rolled in, another disturbing, disappointing, mismanagement, incompetence, and failure of the worst kind that resulted in the loss of over 2,000 American lives, billions and billions of dollars of loss and damage, farms and crops out of place, energy costs zooming, all because of slow mismanagement that we have not been able to recapture our place to this day.
FEMA, the lead organization in homeland security, a total F in response. And right to this day, exactly 14 days before the next hurricane season begins, we do not even have not just an executive director of FEMA, we don't even have a regional director of FEMA in the Atlanta region, my home base, in the region which will be most devastated by a natural disaster and the hurricanes.
And in that region, while I am at it, the response has been, even to reorganizing our military, even to realignment of our military bases, to take the primary base that trains, that deploys all of the National Guard and first responders in the event of a terrorist attack or a hurricane threat, a hurricane hitting this country at Fort Gillam. Instead of responding and building that base up, this administration comes in and recommends that that base be closed. And yet when Katrina hit, where did they have to turn? The only bright spot we had in the whole response to Katrina was to come and take our first responder commander, General Honore, and dispatch him down to the scene. Total mismanagement in every single aspect of response to our homeland security.
Now here we are with a great threat to our borders, which, quite honestly, is perhaps the single most aspect of our own threat to not just homeland security but our national security, untold numbers, thousands of undocumented illegal immigrants sneaking into this country putting extraordinary downward pressure on our wage system, and providing in a way a very serious threat to the basic social services infrastructure of this country.
But it just didn't happen overnight. Where has this administration been? Why are the American people so upset? Why are the polls so low in the face of these Republicans and this administration? It is obvious: slow response, mismanagement. And nowhere is it more exacting and exemplary than with the response to Katrina, a threat to our homeland, and a response to our border security. And that is what is happening.
What is the response? Now it is because in this budget that they get on the floor and they are clapping about that they passed, a budget that cut homeland security by over $6 billion, a budget that would not fund the 1,000 border agents that the 9/11 Commission and a bipartisan group of us Democrats and Republicans in this Congress have recommended. And then to take and overtax the overextended National Guard that has been overextended in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in responding to our hurricanes, and to say now we are going to put them on the border. Too little, too late of the wrong type. And how hypocritical.
How hypocritical to take 6,000 of our National Guard and put them on the border, but to cut the funding for an additional 1,000 to 2,000 border agents that actually need to be there? The American people want some answers to that. That is not an adequate response. America deserves better, and I assure you that Democrats are going to give them better.
Mr. SCHIFF. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman from Georgia for his comments and for all of his work in this area.
The gentleman highlighted the lapses that we saw in homeland security with Katrina, which I think were all the more graphic with the fact that we could literally see Katrina coming. Now, with infinite ways to perpetrate a terrorist attack, we may not see it coming in exactly the form it takes, and if we were not better prepared as a Nation for the hurricanes we could see coming, it gives me great concern about those attacks we do not foresee with that degree of precision.
These failures in the preparation and response to Katrina were also, I think,
the result of a failure of initiative. The report of the bipartisan congressional committee that investigated the response to Katrina, in fact, was entitled ``A Failure of Initiative.'' The report cataloged a series of errors in judgment and in planning, including a failure to prepare for a catastrophic event, a failure to execute the National Response Plan, a failure to evacuate New Orleans and other vulnerable areas, and a lack of information sharing and coordination. We were not prepared for a natural disaster that gave us several days of advance notice. We are even less likely to be prepared for a isaster, natural or man-made, that strikes us suddenly.
Under our Real Security plan, the Department of Homeland Security would develop a comprehensive national emergency preparedness and response plan that spells out the responsibility for government and private agencies at every level. While the Department of Homeland Security had a response plan before Katrina, it lacked the details about coordinating various agencies and jurisdictions, and it was not treated seriously even within the bureaucracy.
For example, a review by the Joint Chiefs of Staff found that the National Response Plan did not even specify the role of the Pentagon and other Federal agencies in assisting local leaders during disasters.
In addition, a GAO report found that the National Guard units that responded to Katrina had only 34 percent of their authorized equipment, which also slowed their response.
These, I think, are some of the failures my colleague from Georgia alluded to, and these are also I think incumbent on the party in power in Congress to do its oversight, to make sure that we are prepared, to hold the executive accountable.
We have not done that oversight. We did not do it before Katrina. We have not done it adequately since, and under Real Security, it not only requires organizational changes within the executive, but also requires Congress to step up to its responsibilities, would you say?
Mr. PRICE of Georgia. Absolutely, and I will tell you another example of the lack of response as well.
When we look at our military and the overextension of our military, all of our generals are saying that, and we have got to listen to them. They are the ones that we have in place to be able to run the military and be able to execute our programs, to maintain and keep us safe.
Now, we in this Congress, for example, have just allocated the money and the space for 17,000 additional National Guardsmen, and what did this administration do? Cut it, at a time when we have our National Guard so overextended.
As you have been, I have been to Iraq and as I have been to Afghanistan, and I might say at the outset here that our soldiers are doing an extraordinary job. My hat's off to them, and it is just a pleasure to just get on a plane and fly over there into Kuwait and into Baghdad as we have done and into Afghanistan and Kabul and to see them do their job under most extraordinary circumstances and the sacrifices that their families are making.
But this administration and this Republican-led Congress, to not fund them at the levels that the military leadership is asking us to and to have them go on two and three tours of duty and then come back here and to shortchange them in their training operations, that they took 2 weeks periods of times in rotation, to go and provide and do paperwork on the border security, quite honestly sometimes feels insulting to me, and our military deserves better. We have got to strengthen our military.
Mr. SCHIFF. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentlemen, and these issues and the others we will continue to explore in the coming weeks as we further amplify Real Security.
Let me just end on this note. I had lunch with one of the Guardsmen from my district who served in the war in Iraq. He described to me how they had to put sheets of plywood and sandbags in to fill the doorways in their humvees because they did not have up-armored vehicles for their runs. The fact that our Guard have to go to those lengths, part of the Real Security plan that I outlined earlier was making sure our troops have the best equipment possible. We have not lived up to that standard. That is going to change under Real Security.
Mr. PRICE of Georgia. Or you go into junk yards, they are scrapping metal just to give them some body armor. That is despicable. That is never going to happen again. We are going to make sure of that.
Mr. SCHIFF. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman.
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