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Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007

Floor Speech

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Location: Washington, DC

IMPLEMENTING RECOMMENDATIONS OF THE 9/11 COMMISSION ACT OF 2007 -- (Senate - July 26, 2007)

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, first of all, I thank Senator Lieberman and Senator Collins for their hard work on this bill. I think we shouldn't be so quick to pat ourselves on the back as far as the 9/11 Commission. The No. 1 thing the 9/11 Commission said is, the money that is spent on protecting this country ought to be based on risk. Fifty percent of the money in this bill is not based on risk. It is based on political calculations, on each one of us getting so much money for our State. That is absolutely wrong.

There are a lot of good provisions in this bill, I don't disagree with that point. But when we take $14 billion over the next 5 years for grants and say $7 billion of it isn't going to go based on the highest risk in this country, it is going to solve the political problems that Members of both the House and Senate have in terms of bringing home the bacon rather than putting that money where it should be put. What if something happens between now and the next 4 years and we could have spent the money in the high-risk areas, but we chose not to because we ignored it and we spent the money elsewhere taking care of our own political needs rather than the needs of our country?

The second point that ought to be made, and Senator Collins made this point, is, it is absolutely impossible for us, over the next 3 years, to screen 100 percent of the cargo. Yet that is what we have mandated. In fact, we are going to take a very effective high-risk program right now, and we are going to stop it and we are going to go to 100 percent screening. In the meantime, we are going to screen 50 percent of it, and we are not going to look at the high-risk cargo. What we are doing with this bill on cargo is making our country less safe. It doesn't fit with any common sense, but yet that is what we have done because a majority of us want to answer the emotional call for 100 percent screening when, in fact, the scientists and people trained to protect us tell us that is not the way to go. We reversed, and we walked away from what we were told by the experts to do.

What do we know about grants? What we know is that of the $10 billion we have already given in grants, 30 percent of it was wasted, and we don't know about the other 70 percent because there are only eight people in the whole Department of Homeland Security who look at the $10 billion we have spent. And we are going to spend $14 billion.

We did get in some post-grant review, but there is no rigorous assessment and transparency of how the money is going to be spent. So it is going to go out there, and we are never going to know if it did the right thing.

On our track record for the $10 billion we have already spent, 30 percent of it we know failed, and 30 percent we know didn't go for legitimate homeland security items. And we don't have and didn't put the resources in this bill, if we are going to spend $14 billion over the next 5 years on grants, to make sure that money goes to do what it is supposed to do. So we are creating problems and taking money and not spending it in the way that is most appropriate, and that is what the Homeland Security said.

The other point the 9/11 Commission said is we ought to reorganize how we oversight intelligence. We didn't do any of that recommendation. We didn't do any of it. They also commented that we have to have the oversight and priorities, that you don't fight turf battles but what you do is fight the terrorists. This bill is loaded with turf battles where money is spent, ordered, and managed by one department, but the checks are cut somewhere else; not because that is the way to do it, but because we are protecting some politicians' turf in terms of controlling the money. I think that does not reflect well.

There is another interesting item we have created. We created a weapons of mass destruction czar and commission in this bill. That may be a good idea. I am not sure I disagree with that. But we also said to that czar--this is going to be a White House position--anything you tell the President, you cannot tell him in confidence. We gutted executive privilege to have an adviser to the President on weapons of mass destruction to have the confidence that what he says to the President in private, in confidence for the best part of this country, will become available to all of us.

First of all, no President is ever going to fill this position because they are not about to have an adviser behind them advising them who cannot give a clear, concrete recommendation without it being second-guessed by somebody on the outside knowing what they are saying. It goes against all common sense.

Finally, what we have done is we have taken our black box intelligence numbers, and we are going to tell the world what they are, which is crazy. We are going to tell the world how much money we spend on covert activities, and we are going to share that with them. We shouldn't be sharing that information. That information should not be out there, and yet we have decided to do it to our own disadvantage.

I know there has been great work put in on this bill both by Chairman Lieberman and Ranking Member COLLINS, and I appreciate it.

One final point that I will mention. We had in our bill some oversight in the BBG, the Broadcasting Board of Governors. Here is what we know about Farsi Voice of America TV and Arabic TV. What we know is most of the time they are not presenting America's viewpoint. They are presenting our enemy's viewpoint, and we know this because my office has been translating and having translated their broadcasts. We put into the bill to have those translations become public as a part of BBG, and that got rejected.

So we are going to continue to have a foreign policy where we are paying money to have radio programs go into Iran that are counter to what our own policies are, and yet we are not going to have accountability in this bill, to hold BBG accountable. It is not there. It has been taken away.

Transparency is a great thing for this country, and when we spend money to create an American position in a foreign land, to not have transcripts and for them to not want us to have transcripts of what is going on, the first thing one has to ask is, Why not?

Why shouldn't American taxpayers know where they are spending their money and know what the message is that they are sending? Unless the message is something different than what it should be. And that is the case with Radio Farsi and Radio Farda.

There are several other things I will not spend any more time on but that I think the American people ought to ask themselves. Last year, $434 billion on credit cards was charged to our grandkids. We have $14 billion worth of grants in this bill over the next 5 years; $7 billion that we don't know if it is going to be spent well. We certainly don't know if it is truly going to be spent on homeland security and at a priority of what is best and what is based on the highest risk.

So I am disappointed that we didn't get a lot of things in the bill that we should, and I know this is an effort at compromise, but it seems to me that certain things that are common sense, such as spending money to make sure our message is right, and knowing that it is right; making sure we are spending the money where the highest risk is, rather than where the greatest political need is, ought to have been principles that should have gotten into this bill.

I voted against this bill not because I don't think we should be protecting the homeland, not because I don't think we should be following these recommendations but because we have ignored the No. 1 recommendation of the 9/11 Commission, which is the money ought to go where the risk is. We ignored it. We ignored it. We played the political game that makes us all happy, but we didn't fix the problem. If we have another event where we should have put the money, then how will we answer that? How will we answer that?

They didn't say some of the money should go to the highest risk. They said all the money should go to the highest risk. What we have are three grant programs, one of which is very good at risk and two of which are not. So we ought to ask ourselves: Have we done the best we could have done?

The effort by Senator Lieberman and Senator Collins was extraordinary. We had great debate in our committee on a lot of these issues. By the way, they supported me in these things. We didn't get them out of conference. The question we are going to be judged on is how effective we did this. My hope was and my feeling is we could have done better.


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