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Public Statements

American Homeland Security

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC


AMERICAN HOMELAND SECURITY -- (House of Representatives - May 18, 2006)

The SPEAKER pro tempore. Under the Speaker's announced policy of January 4, 2005, the gentleman from California (Mr. Schiff) is recognized for half the time until midnight as the designee of the minority leader.

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 theƐ9/11 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).

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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 disaster, 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?

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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.

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