In an effort to keep Americans safe from terrorism, and from accidents at home, I introduced the Hazardous Materials Cooperative Research Act of 2009 (H.R. 1013) to address shortfalls in research addressing the shipment, inspection, and response to incidents involving hazardous materials.
Our nation sees more than 1 million shipments of hazardous materials every single day, and it is critical that we be on the cutting edge of research to ensure the safety and security of these shipments. Likewise, we must ensure that our first responders are adequately equipped with the information and research necessary to effectively and efficiently react to any accidents or incidents involving hazmats.
More than a dozen government agencies and private companies have commissioned studies on hazardous materials, but most of this research is program-specific, focused only on the needs of the group undertaking the research and leaving disturbing gaps in oversight efforts and applied research on issues that are cross-cutting in nature.
My legislation would establish and implement a $20 million hazardous materials cooperative research program to address current shortfalls in hazmat studies. Projects would be selected by an independent governing board established by the Secretary of Transportation, and priority would be given to studies that will yield results immediately applicable to risk analysis and mitigation or that will strengthen the ability of first responders to respond to incidents involving hazmats.
The introduction of H.R. 1013 is one of several steps I took after a massive fire in Baltimore's Howard Street Tunnel in 2001. The fire was caused when a train derailed, puncturing several tank cars and igniting flammable liquid. In part because first responders were lacking adequate information on hazardous discharge procedures, the fire continued to burn for several days.
With nearly one-fifth of our nation's cargo containing hazardous materials, we cannot afford to rely on antiquated or incomplete research on best practices of shipment and response. The Howard Street Tunnel fire was a shocking and devastating wake-up call for the need for a massive safety overhaul of our nation's transportation systems. This comprehensive, cross-cutting research program is an important step to protect us from experiencing a disaster on such a large scale again.
Protecting our Mariners:
April 2009 revealed a major issue with the safety of our maritime sailors, as the Maersk Alabama and its crew were captured by pirates. Though eventual action by the U.S. Navy allowed the recovery of the crew, piracy remains a problem in the seas off the Horn of Africa. To protect our merchant sailors, I authored an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. My amendment (#269), would require the Department of Defense to protect U.S.-flagged ships at risk of being boarded by pirates.
We would never leave the U.S. homeland unguarded if it were at risk of an attack, and we should apply this same standard to our ships instead of leaving them to fend for themselves. We anticipate that embarking military security personnel on these vessels will require far less manpower than patrolling the region with multiple Navy vessels and be much more efficient and effective in keeping our mariners safe.
My amendment passed the House, but was not included in the final version of the bill signed by the President. I will absolutely continue to fight for this change however, because at the time of the hijacking of the Alabama, there had been 114 Somali pirate attacks in this area, resulting in 29 successful hijackings. By comparison, the entire year of 2008 saw 111 attacks.
According to estimates by the U.S. Maritime Administration, approximately 54 U.S.-flagged vessels transit the Horn of Africa region during the course of a year, with only a handful at serious risk of pirate attacks due to their operating characteristics.
Our merchant fleet has always depended on our nation's Naval power to ensure its safety, and we cannot shirk that duty now. Embarking military security personnel on these vessels makes a loud statement that our nation stands behind these ships and that we will not allow pirates to intimidate us.
As a member of the Board of Visitors at the U.S. Naval Academy and as the Chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, I am committed to diversity in our armed forces. I was pleased with the Naval Academy for its recruitment efforts in 2008, which resulted in a 50 percent jump in minority applicants.
America's greatest strength as a nation derives not from the great weaponry of our military, but from our diversity and our mutual respect for one another. Diversity is not a problem or a challenge that must be managed, but a promise that exists in every single individual that can only be cultivated and fully realized through our collective commitment to assure fair treatment to everyone.
In 2007, the U.S. Naval Academy expanded its outreach efforts to ensure that its student body reflected the diversity of our nation's population at large. Through the new efforts of the Office of Diversity and the Office of Admissions, the Academy has seen the number of 2009 applications soar, and it will be admitting the most diverse class in its history.
Our military service academies admit and train the very best of the best to lead our nation's armed forces, and it is critical that recruitment efforts do not exclude any populations. I applaud the recruitment efforts of the Naval Academy, and I hope that its success will be replicated in the future by the other service academies and the U.S. military. By ensuring that our entire population is represented in our military and military service academies, we are building a force that is strengthened by its diversity and commitment to serve our entire nation.
I also sent a letter to Army Secretary Pete Geren urging him to address the lack of senior officer positions in the Army that are filled by minority candidates.
The Army has taken significant steps in its efforts to review and assess diversity programs through the creation of the Army Diversity Office. One of the Army's strategic goals is to implement commitment and accountability measures. On January 26, 2006, the Army's Senior Leadership signed a joint policy statement on diversity which committed the Army to a diversity vision. The current policy, dated April, 1, 2009, pledges a vision for the Army to be the national leader in embracing the strengths of diverse people in an inclusive environment.
It was reported by the Boston Globe on June 17, 2009 that West Point had a 9 percent increase in applications submitted for the class of 2013.
Once commissioned, a minority officers' career path must be managed by placing them in high profile developmental jobs within their respective career fields to make them more competitive for advancement. Historically, officers in combat arms career fields dominated the pipeline for promotion to general officer. As the Army has transformed into a more agile force, leader development and promotion potential to the senior ranks must be representative across a broad spectrum of capabilities.
While the Army has made a good faith effort to address areas of minority underrepresentation, I told Secretary Geren that I believe more aggressive steps are needed to achieve a fully diverse force and capitalize on the strength of this diversity. Having addressed this issue for the past three years, the Army should be able to provide tangible results as a true measure of the leadership's commitment to institutionalizing diversity into the culture.
War in Iraq:
I opposed the war in Iraq before it began. In 2002, I joined 132 of my colleagues in voting against the resolution authorizing President Bush to use force against Iraq (H.J.Res. 114). Today, I remain unyielding in opposition to the war. As a result of the war, in addition to the millions of Iraqi civilians either killed or displaced from their homes, more than 4300 American troops have lost their lives. The Iraq War has not made our nation safer, has not made our military stronger, and has not stabilized the Iraq region.
Nevertheless, I have never believed that, after our invasion, we could abandon the Iraqi people to civil war and anarchy. Instead, we need a winning strategy that employs far more than military might. As a proud co-sponsor of the Responsible Redeployment from Iraq Act, I have been in the vanguard of Congressional efforts to rethink our national strategy and return our troops to their families and communities.
I am proud to say that American troops have begun their withdrawal. In February 2010, they numbered less than 100,000 for the first time since the invasion, and President Obama has presented a clear strategy to bring our troops home. Under this strategy, which I support, no American combat troops will remain on Iraqi soil after August 2010. All United States troops will be home by the end of 2011.
While I remain steadfast in my opposition to the intelligence and leadership failures that led us into this war, I am grateful for the heroism of the men and women who have served their nation in Iraq. Now that we have a clearly articulated plan to return them home, we must honor their efforts, care for the wounded and prevent similarly ill-advised military action from happening again.
As a member of Congress I will continue to hold the President accountable for his use of our military, and support our soldiers, particularly the sick and wounded, as they return home.
War in Afghanistan:
The war in Afghanistan began as a response to Al-Qaeda's attacks on our homeland and I supported the President's determination to deny terrorists further opportunities to prepare future threats to the United States. Unfortunately, the prior Administration failed to follow through and -- against my advice -- diverted resources from Afghanistan towards an unnecessary war in Iraq.
This decision diminished our efforts and contributed to an unnecessary lengthening and intensification of a war that has now cost almost 1,000 American lives. With the Obama Administration in office, we have the opportunity to readdress our aims in Afghanistan and ensure that our troops are adequately resourced. I support the President's decision to reevaluate our mission in Afghanistan and design a strategy that can succeed.
Afghanistan has demonstrated that military power is an effective tool for some purposes, but that America must employ a much larger array of resources, including diplomatic power, to accomplish our goals. I applaud the decision by the Obama Administration to view this problem as a regional issue, adequately resource civilian efforts and increase, for a limited time, our troops in Afghanistan.
I also applaud the President's decision to announce a withdrawal date simultaneous with the commitment of additional forces. It is my belief that a withdrawal date will force Afghan leaders and politicians to resolve their own problems and encourage compromise. Perhaps more importantly, a withdrawal date is a necessary signal to our nation's mothers and fathers that our soldiers will serve only as long as necessary.
Unfortunately, the Administration has recently backed away from the viewpoint that July 2011 represents the beginning of a withdrawal. I am dissatisfied with this approach because I feel that we need a withdrawal plan; perhaps adjustments may be needed, but it is important that we at least have a plan. For this reason, I have chosen to co-sponsor HR 5015. If passed, this bill would require the President to provide the Congress with a withdrawal plan by January 1, 2011.
As a member of Congress, I have long stood for the judicious, and justified, use of military power. I will continue to ensure that our troops are adequately resourced and that our strategy is appropriate and clear so that we can accomplish our aims and finally bring out troops home.