Sabo Criticizes Chemical Security Provision in Final Homeland Security Bill
Friday, September 29, 2006
Washington, D.C. - In managing his final Homeland Security Appropriations bill as top Democrat on the House Subcommittee, Congressman Martin Olav Sabo (D-MN) praised the conference agreement (H.R. 5441) for its additional funding for border enforcement, new procedures for the handling of Sensitive Security Information and strengthening FEMA. He criticized other aspects for not being strong enough, however.
Sabo expressed particular disappointment with weak and ambiguous provisions on chemical security.
"Elements of the chemical security language in this bill are unnecessarily weak and vague," Sabo said. "The chemical security amendment I offered in May, which was duplicated by the Senate, set stronger, clearer standards for chemical facility regulations than the provision of the bill before us today."
Sabo questioned language to prohibit the Homeland Security Secretary's disapproval of a security plan based on the absence of any particular security measure. Additionally, Sabo raised concerns that the lack of clarity in the provision regarding state pre-emption will lead to lawsuits, and that citizens would be barred from going to court to enforce chemical security regulations. During debate, Sabo received assurances from the House homeland security authorizing chairman that states' prerogative to establish stricter security standards would not be pre-empted by this legislation.
Sabo has long worked to rein in the overuse of the Sensitive Security Information (SSI) designation which restricts the public release of documents, but is not the same as "classified" information. Learning in 2004 that DHS labeled its entire phone directory "SSI," Sabo engaged the Government Accountability Office in reviewing DHS and TSA's use of "SSI." Every year since, Sabo has shepherded legislation to strengthen the procedures for handling SSI information.
"Government must be open and accountable to the American people. There must always be good reason when we restrict their access to information," Sabo said.
While Congressman Sabo approved of provisions in the measure to strengthen FEMA, he expressed frustration at the continual reorganization of the Department of Homeland Security.
"Being ready to handle the next disaster demands that we do more than repeatedly rearrange bureaucratic deck chairs, as is this administration's tendency," Sabo said. "Last year, Mr. Obey and I raised doubts about the Secretary's plan to dismantle FEMA and create the Preparedness Directorate. With this bill, that bureaucratic reshuffling is largely being undone."
Congressman Sabo will retire at the end of the year after 28 years in the U.S. House of Representatives.