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Thompson Delivers Statement on Crucial Homeland Security Legislation

Today, Congressman Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), Chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security, delivered the following statement on the House Floor regarding, H.R. 1, “Implementing the 9-11 Recommendations Act of 2007”:

“We are here today considering this bill for one reason: to protect America from terrorism and from those who advocate hate and violence against our nation and its values. Let’s be clear – the bill before us today does not contain Democratic or Republican ideas on how to protect our nation – it contains American ideas.

It contains ideas formulated by the 9/11 Commission –a bipartisan group of Americans chosen for their wisdom, expertise and love of country. Americans who we tasked to tell us what happened on September 11, 2001 and how to avoid it happening again. That is why we are here today.

I hope my colleagues will put rhetoric and political games aside to do right by the American people. To do right by those whose lives were affected by 9/11, including those whose memories we honor.

I have heard and read a lot of excuses about fulfilling the recommendations. On one hand, many of my colleagues across the aisle have publicly said for months that they already fulfilled the recommendations. In the past week, they have accused the Democratic leadership of presenting a bill that doesn’t fulfill the recommendations and leaves gaps. I’m a bit baffled – did the Republicans fulfill or not fulfill the recommendations? I think we all know the answer – that’s why we are here today.

To those who want to point out alleged gaps in the 9/11 bill I say -- we can do better than the past. Here is a chance for Congress to stop dragging its feet – to become the “do something” Congress. We can stand around complaining and pointing fingers or we can finally do the job we were hired to do. There is an old Irish proverb that says “you will never plough a field if you only turn it over in your mind.” Congress has spent five years turning over the 9/11 recommendations in its mind. On the topics covered by this legislation, we have seen bills introduced, amendments offered, hearings held and investigative reports written.

Don’t be fooled by those who say that this bill is moving too quickly – it has been five years since 9/11. It has been three years since the 9/11 Commission issued its report. Now is the time to plough this field. Now is the time to act on the 9/11 recommendations.

The 9/11 Commission has told us that we must provide homeland security grants to states and cities based on risk, not on pork-barrel formulas. This bill meets that recommendation. The 9/11 Commission told us many more people could die after a terrorist attack or natural disaster if police, firefighters, and paramedics can’t communicate with one another. Today, we will create a dedicated grant program to ensure state and local first responders have communications systems that talk to one another.

The 9/11 Commissioners told us that more than five years after the hijackers flew planes into our national landmarks, our aviation system is still not secure enough. We still do not spend our money cost-effectively to screen checked baggage. Airport checkpoints are not equipped with the most modern technologies, like those needed to detect liquid explosives. And cargo that is stored under passenger seats is still not adequately inspected. This bill extends funding for advanced baggage screening and creates a novel new trust fund to strengthen checkpoint security. Perhaps most importantly, this bill requires TSA to create a system of inspections to ensure that 100% of the cargo shipped on passenger planes is screened within three years. TSA will do this through a system that uses equipment, technology, canines, inspectors, and other means to ensure that the level of security provided for air cargo is equivalent to the level of security for checked baggage.

This bill also requires all cargo containers carried on ships to be scanned and sealed before they leave for an American port. The scanning requirements in this bill are put in place within a reasonable timeframe — three years for large ports and five years for smaller ports. This bill takes other key steps to fulfill the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations, such as strengthening critical infrastructure security and improving private sector preparedness.

Perhaps most importantly, this bill will create a strong, independent Privacy and Civil Liberties Board. It will also strengthen the authority of privacy officers in federal agencies. We all know that securing our nation will be of little use if we lose our way of life – our commitment to privacy and individual freedom – in the process. For too long many in this House have talked about strengthening homeland security, but they were unwilling to pay the necessary price or confront the waste and White House mismanagement.

Now is the time to put action to words. Supporting the 9/11 Commission Fulfillment Act today will do just that.”

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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