Issue Position: Homeland Security
Five years after the deadliest attack in our nation's history, Washington still hasn't done what's necessary to protect America.
We've been warned time and time again about the vulnerability of our homeland security: by Republicans and Democrats in Congress, by the 9/11 commission, by the FBI, by the CIA, by the Justice Department, by the Homeland Security department, by the Coast Guard, by the border patrol, and by mayors, firefighters, police officers, and emergency.
But Washington hasn't yet invested in real homeland security.
We need to reject short-sighted Washington budgeting that argues we can't afford to fund homeland security, instead we need leadership that believes we can't afford not to just think about the state of our homeland security today.
There are over 100 chemical plants near communities of over one million. We know that the EPA and the Justice Department say they're vulnerable to attack. And a Georgia Pacific's former security chief has said that "Security at a 7-Eleven after midnight is better than at a plant with a 90-ton vessel of chlorine."
But the people who run Washington have opposed common sense regulations to improve security at our chemical and nuclear plants; giving in to demands from their chemical and nuclear industry campaign contributors. That's wrong.
Today, our borders remain unsecured. Three million people without the proper documentation will enter our country this year - 4,000 every day on the Arizona-Mexico border alone. We've already caught individuals from countries like Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan attempting to cross our borders illegally.
Yet border inspectors tell us they lack the basic training and ready access to information they need to keep terrorists out - like the terrorist watch list. Robert Bonner, the Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, calls the border situation "a complete mess."
But we still don't have a single integrated watch list. And Washington's been cutting jobs in our border patrol. You can't control a border unless it's patrolled.
Former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge admitted that 95% of the 20,000 containers arriving in America's ports each day are not physically inspected. But we only saw the first dollars spent in the budget to enhance our port security when Congress forced the issue.
The FBI warns us that Al Qaeda may attack trains or subways here as they did in Madrid. But there's barely any investment in the budget to strengthen our public transportation system. That's wrong.
The Department of Homeland Security's own investigators were able to carry explosives and weapons past security screeners at every airport they visited. But we've seen thousands of airport screeners cut. Airports don't have the funding they need to improve baggage screening. Washington can do better than this.
The government's own watchdogs tell us that our hospitals are not prepared to deal with a bioterror attack. And, despite pledging to maintain stockpiles of drugs to protect America from a bioterrorism attack, the government only has enough licensed anthrax vaccine for 530 people.
Half of our fire-fighters don't have the radios they need to communicate in a crisis. And the U.S. Conference of Mayors found that 76 percent of cities have still not received first responder funds. Washington's also been cutting the COPS program that put 100,000 new police officers on the street.
We need to hold Washington accountable on homeland security. Even as we're told we can't afford more port security, more baggage security, more border patrol agents, more firefighters and more cops on the beat; we're told we can afford run-away spending on wasteful projects and wasteful tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.
Washington isn't living up to its obligation to protect the American people.
Here's what we should be doing:
We should invest at least $60 billion more over the next ten years to protect America. We should secure our ports and our borders by screening cargo for nuclear materials. We should make sure that we have enough border agents with the right technology to keep commerce flowing in while keeping terrorists out. We should make sure we have a single, effective, and integrated terrorist watch list that is accessible to everyone who needs it to keep America safe.
We should protect our transportation systems by making sure we screen airplane cargo just like we screen baggage; by ensuring our airports have enough trained staff to protect us; by investing more than $2 billion to improve security on our railroads, subways, bridges and tunnels.
We should protect our chemical and nuclear plants by requiring them to develop and implement real security plans.
We should protect our country against bioterrorism by making investments in our public health system to detect possible threats; by giving hospitals and emergency rooms the resources they need to contain an attack; and by making sure our public health system can develop and distribute enough vaccines for the people who need them.
Washington should do everything possible so that America's first responders have the tools to keep us safe. We should invest in more manpower, more equipment, and more training for those who are on the frontlines defending America every day. We should restore funding for the COPS program. I will add 100,000 firefighters.
We have a lot of catching up to do; we need to begin now. It's time to close the gaps in our homeland security. It's time to build an America that is safer and stronger.