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Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2007

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, I want to thank the managers of the fiscal year 2007 Homeland Security appropriations bill, the distinguished Senator from New Hampshire, Mr. Gregg, and my friend from West Virginia, Senator Byrd, for accepting two amendments that will help remedy some of the Government's failures in disaster response.

The first amendment, cosponsored by my colleague from Connecticut, Senator Lieberman, will require the Department of Homeland Security, DHS, to develop a robust system to help people locate family members after a disaster. Immediately after Hurricane Katrina, people searched the Astrodome and combed the Internet, hoping to locate their loved ones. Unfortunately, many of these people continue their search today.

My amendment requires DHS, in consultation with the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Attorney General of the United States, to review the methods used by the Louisiana Family Assistance Call Center and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to assist in the location of friends and family displaced by Hurricane Katrina. DHS must then report on these models and provide Congress with a detailed plan for the swift implementation of a family locator program for future disasters that reflects the lessons learned from these two models. The Department's plan should lead to the creation of an efficient means of helping those displaced by future disasters locate their friends and family.

My second amendment is a commonsense attempt to stop the abuse of no-bid contracting in the aftermath of a disaster. After Hurricane Katrina, the Federal Emergency Management Agency relied upon the ``unusual and compelling urgency'' exception to allow no-bid contracts for everything from collecting debris to hauling and installing housing trailers. Unfortunately, some of these no-bid contracts were not merely emergency stop-gap measures--they were open-ended agreements and resulted in significant waste and abuse.

My amendment, cosponsored by my colleague from Oklahoma, Senator Coburn, prohibits the use of no-bid contracts under the ``compelling urgency'' exception, unless these contracts are limited in time, scope and value, and notification is provided to the congressional oversight committees. This amendment will end the abuse of noncompetitive contracts by setting real and reasonable limits to the emergency exception. This amendment does nothing to inhibit a rapid response to emergencies; rather it closes a loophole that threatens the integrity of our Federal response, and it will save taxpayer money. I thank the Senators for accepting this amendment into the bill.

I am pleased that these amendments have been accepted into the bill, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to ensure that the failures of the Government's response to Hurricane Katrina are not repeated.


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