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Issue Position: First Responders

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Issue Position: First Responders

Recommendation #25 of the 9/11 Commission Report states:

• "Homeland Security assistance should be based strictly on an assessment of risks and vulnerabilities" and

• "Federal homeland security assistance should not remain a program for general revenue sharing."

First responders are on the front lines in helping communities prevent, prepare for, and respond to threats and emergencies. The men and women who make up the nation's police officers, fire fighters, and emergency medical personnel put their lives on the line to protect citizens in communities across the country. The federal government has a responsibility to recognize this sacrifice, and provide the support and resources necessary to safeguard the public. To effectively respond to emergencies, our first responders need modernized equipment and communications systems necessary to coordinate immediate response between local, state and federal agencies. Congress and the White House have an obligation to help state and local governments maintain safe levels of first responders, and ensure they receive appropriate training to protect Americans in case of a disaster or emergency.

The Problem

• Current law does not base the distribution of homeland security funding on an assessment of risk, threat, and vulnerabilities.

• Nearly 40% of homeland security grant funding currently goes to general revenue sharing.

• The areas of greatest risk, threat, and vulnerability are not getting the resources that they need.

• As we have seen in the last week with the public acknowledgement of terrorist planning to attack the mass transit tunnels that connect New Jersey and New York.

In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, President Bush declared that "our government's greatest responsibility is to protect the American people." Yet five years of Republican governance - with its incompetence, misplaced priorities, and unfulfilled promises - has left the homeland unprotected. In the four and a half years since 9/11, Bush Republican policies have failed to adequately bolster the security of our critical infrastructure, support our first responders, or implement a comprehensive strategy for dealing with the threats of natural disasters or terrorist attacks. The Administration's professed commitment to improving homeland security has come in stark contrast to its practice of consistently under-funding key programs, its failure to adopt an effective risk- based strategy for allocating limited resources, and its record of poor management and oversight. It is time for a new direction in homeland security - one that seriously addresses threats from terrorist attacks and natural disasters.

Misplaced priorities. The Bush Administration's emphasis on "taking the fight to the enemy" and, in particular, its misguided focus on Iraq, has prevented it from adequately focusing on efforts to secure the homeland. The Administration has directed $320 billion in U.S. taxpayer money to pursue the war in Iraq - funds that could have been better allocated to improve our disaster preparedness, first responder readiness, and infrastructure security. Lawrence Korb provides a sobering perspective on the impact of Bush Republicans' dangerous Iraq policy on homeland security: "[T]his country could provide security upgrades for all subways and commuter rails for what we spend every 20 days in Iraq; security upgrades for 361 ports for four days in Iraq; and explosive screening for all U.S. passenger airlines for ten days in Iraq." (Center for American Progress, What Does the U.S. Need to Do? The United States and Homeland Security)

Bush Republicans also have exhibited poor judgment in the allocation of funding within the homeland security budget, too often failing to ensure that the formula for distributing limited homeland security resources is based on risk and vulnerability. The Administration's recent decision to authorize a 40 percent cut in Department of Homeland Security Urban Anti-terrorism Grants to Washington, D.C. and New York City is but the latest example of its misguided policy.

Unfulfilled promises. Despite pledges to ensure that our first responders will have the necessary equipment and training, and promises to protect the American people and our critical infrastructure from the threat of terrorist attacks and natural disasters, Bush Republicans have failed to dedicate the necessary resources to implement these programs. The Bush Administration and the Republican-led Congress have significantly under-funded vital homeland security programs authorized under the 9/11 Act. For example, President Bush's Fiscal Year 2006 and 2007 budgets both failed to provide sufficient funding to hire the additional 2,000 border patrol agents authorized by law. Last year, his budget provided for only 1,000 additional agents - just half the number authorized - and next year's budget funds 500 less than the number authorized.

Mismanagement and weak oversight. The Bush Administration's poor management practices at the Department of Homeland Security and its failure to effectively exercise oversight of its activities have undermined strategic planning initiatives and the implementation of critical homeland security measures. The Department's Inspector General (IG) highlighted poor management practices as a central reason for its failed response to hurricane Katrina. In an audit released in December 2005, the IG cited a number of dangerous weaknesses in the Department's management systems, including its information sharing practices, project management and risk management strategies.

The Results of Five Years of Republican Rule: Vulnerabilities Remain
Despite Persistent Threats

• The large and extended deployment of National Guard units overseas, particularly in Iraq, has severely depleted the equipment inventory of our domestic units, weakening the ability of the United States to deal with the threat of terrorist attacks or natural disasters. The Chief of the National Guard Bureau recently reported that his forces have less than 34 percent of the equipment they
should have to be ready for military operations, protect the homeland against attack, and respond to domestic disasters.

• Bush Administration efforts to secure the homeland have left us far less secure than we should be. On December 5, 2005, when the 9/11 Commission issued its final report card, it gave the federal government a series of C's, D's, and F's on 28 of its 41 recommendations on critical areas of homeland security,
including port security, border security, aviation security, chemical plant security, and first responders.

The Bush Administration has not taken the steps necessary to protect America from catastrophic threats posed by terrorist attacks on our infrastructure.

Bush Republicans have failed to deploy effective technology capable of detecting attempts by terrorists to transport weapons of mass destruction across U.S. land borders. GAO recently detailed how two federal investigators were able to smuggle enough nuclear material to make two dirty bombs across both our northern and southern borders.

The Bush Administration's consistent under-funding of port security grants has delayed necessary security upgrades at our nation's ports. Only six percent of the 11 million containers that come through U.S. ports each year are screened. A WMD detonated in a container at a seaport could cause tremendous numbers of casualties, and an estimated economic loss ranging from $58 billion to $1 trillion.

The Administration's insistence on voluntary compliance to regulate chemical plant security has left America vulnerable to a toxic chemical release. There are over 3,000 chemical facilities where a terrorist attack could cause a toxic release that could threaten over 10,000 people.

The Bush Administration has not collaborated with other countries to develop a terrorist watch list, a tool necessary to ensure terrorists cannot get across our borders.

• America remains unprepared to deal with the aftermath of a terrorist attack or natural disaster. According to the Department of Homeland Security's recently- released Phase II Nationwide Plan Review, only 10 states have sufficient disaster response plans in place and the public health infrastructure in most states does not have the training and basic equipment necessary to effectively respond to a terrorist attack or flu pandemic. Perhaps most disturbing, is the fact that there is still not an adequate National Response Plan in place to ensure effective coordination between first responders and local, state, and federal officials in the event of a disaster or terrorist attack.


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