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Thompson Statement at “DHS: Major Initiatives for 2007” Committee Hearing

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Today, the Committee on Homeland Security held a hearing entitled “DHS: Major Initiatives for 2007, Members to Hear Security Plan from Secretary Chertoff." What follows is the prepared opening statement of Congressman Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), Ranking Member of the Committee on Homeland Security:


“Mr. Secretary, we’re glad to have you here. It’s been a while since we’ve seen you. In fact, it has been more than six months since you’ve testified before this Full Committee – and a lot has happened in that time frame. We’ve seen… fraud allegations against FEMA, an uproar over foreign ownership of ports, questions about contracting practices and key leadership vacancies, faulty grant formulas that cut funding to DC and New York City- the two cities directly targeted by the 9/11 terrorists… And the list goes on and on...

“Moving forward – I hope I can get a commitment from you to appear more often before this Committee so that we can conduct more effective oversight over a still-troubled Department. I hope today that we have an honest dialogue of what troubles the Department – devoid of political speech, euphemisms, and feel-good testimony that portray an unrealistic view of your agency.

“The truth of the matter is that the Department has a long way to go if it is to protect our nation. Yes, there have been some bright moments here and there - such as your outreach during the London air threat – but those instances remain overshadowed by what has been left undone. Overshadowed, for example, by the memories and lessons of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

“Two days ago marks the one year anniversary of Hurricane Rita striking the Gulf Coast. Friday marks the one year, one month anniversary of Katrina. And, from what I’ve observed, the Department may be falling back into a pre-Katrina mindset. This shows in FEMA’s continuing staffing crisis. Just a few weeks ago, the GAO found that you still have not issued the crucial catastrophic planning supplement to the National Response Plan. I’ve also seen the struggle of thousands in my home state of Mississippi who are still living in FEMA trailers. Mr. Secretary, America simply cannot go back to a pre-Katrina mindset.

“Just as we can’t go back to a pre-9/11-mindset, which I’m also fearful of. Lately, there has been a lot of talk about all kinds of security - border, port, cargo, and chemical. The volume seems to be turned up rather loud these days on the security rhetoric. What I don’t see in the rhetoric, however, are the resources.

“Just yesterday, the Washington Post ran this story, on the security appropriations bill in Congress, which I would like to enter into the record as part of my testimony. For those who can’t read the headline, it says - Homeland Security Bill Is More Style than Substance, Analysts Say. The article points out, for example, that the bill only pays for at most a little more than half of the 700 mile fence that so many of my colleagues felt the need to re-vote on two weeks ago because of its alleged necessity to our border efforts. The article quotes a Heritage Foundation scholar as saying, “most of it, quite frankly, is a lot of political theater.”

“Upon reading the article, I wanted to say to those who are advocating last minute security initiatives in these final weeks “show me the money.” Otherwise, we will continue to just have the “security on the cheap” approach that is leaving our nation vulnerable.

Mr. Secretary, I know you would agree with me that our homeland security efforts must urgently address 21st century threats – whether from man-made or natural dangers. That is why today, I ask you to “help me help you." Help me help you by telling us what we need to do to secure our nation against 21st century threats. Help me help you by telling us what remains left to be done and by not giving us another laundry-list of the Department’s perceived successes. We get the press releases and don’t need to have a hearing to read them or have you recite them back to us. Mr. Secretary, help me help you by talking frankly about what it will really cost to implement some vitally important – but badly overdue – security initiatives. Help me help you and together we'll all help the American people.”

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For More Information:
Please contact Dena Graziano or Todd Levett at (202) 226-2616

Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS)

Rep. Bennie G. Thompson

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