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Chairman Thompson on Passage of H.R. 1 and the Future of Homeland Security

August 2, 2007 (WASHINGTON) - Today, Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), Chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, delivered the following prepared remarks at the Center for American Progress in Washington, DC on the 9/11 Recommendations Bill - H.R. 1:

"As you know, there are some in this town who suffer from homeland security fatigue. Like you, I’m committed to pushing the envelope on all things homeland security.

I stand here today as a Chairman that successfully navigated through the jurisdictional maze of 10 different House Committees during negotiations and 8 in Conference. And, let me tell you, that was no easy task. I have the scars to prove it.

The Senate also had their jurisdictional battles, many of which impacted our conference negotiations. H.R. 1 honored the fine work of ten American patriots who spoke with one unified—bipartisan—voice. Those individuals, who made up the 9/11 Commission, produced a 567-page report designed to fundamentally changed America’s view of its security.

Despite the rhetoric of being tough on security, the fact remains that the Bush Administration and the Republicans in the 109th Congress did not do their jobs. And so the task fell upon me to carry out the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the steady leadership of our leadership team, Speaker Pelosi, Leader Hoyer, our Whip, Jim Clyburn and our Caucus Chair, Rahm Emanuel. Collectively, they played an instrumental role in bringing all the relevant parties to the table.

Last Friday, I was privileged to present a bipartisan Conference Report that finally fulfills these recommendations. The final vote was 371-40. Yesterday, I was fortunate to participate in the signing ceremony with the Democratic leaders of the House and the Senate to transmit this critical legislation to the White House.

At about 1:30 p.m., on yesterday, we formally sent the President a piece of legislation intended to implement the remaining recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. Now, those of you who cover the daily happenings of Washington know that when a bill is labeled H.R. 1, it signifies great importance to the House—it was the first order of business in this Congress.

Simply put, Democrats have made it abundantly clear that we are no shrinking violets when it comes to securing the homeland.

We have dedicated ourselves to improving homeland security without succumbing to fear-mongering. We are the party that has figured out that you can balance commerce and security. We are the ones who recognize that state, local, and Tribal governments are critical to security. And Democrats have addressed civil liberties as just as important a virtue as security itself.

On a personal note, it is under the Democratic leadership that I have the honor of being the first African-American to have a House-Senate Conference on an H.R. 1.

When H.R. 1 is enacted, homeland security grants will finally be allocated based on risk. Targeted communities will get the Federal help they need. First responders will finally have a stand-alone interoperable communications grants program.

When H.R. 1 is enacted, information necessary to uncover terrorist plots will be exchanged between Federal and local law enforcement. Would-be terrorists will not be able to exploit the Visa Waiver Program. Privacy and civil liberties WILL be critical to how we approach homeland security. Our rail, mass transit, and aviation systems will be more secure. When H.R. 1 is enacted, 100% of U.S.-bound cargo will be scanned in a commerce-friendly manner.

Now, did I get everything I wanted in this bill? - Absolutely not. But, I guess that’s the art of compromise. I must also report that there still remains some unfinished business.

One of our next big challenges will be to centralize jurisdiction over the Department to a single Committee in each chamber. It certainly took a lot of diligence and patience. As Chairman of the 9/11 Commission, Thomas H. Kean, pointed out to the Associated Press last week, Congress must still address the jurisdictional consolidation issue.

So far, in the 110th Congress alone- DHS has participated in a total of 141 hearings: DHS has participated in a total of 42 hearings where multiple witnesses from DHS testified. DHS has provided a total of 195 witnesses. DHS has provided approximately 1,554 briefings.

We are obviously far from a single, principal point of congressional oversight of the Department. We owe that to the Department, we owe that to its employees, and we owe that to the American people. We will continue to work with leadership and other Committees to address this issue. I am also disappointed that collective bargaining and whistleblower rights for TSA screeners were not included in the final report.

At the end of the day, we have to remember that Congress is a political body. That means getting the most we can without sacrificing our core principles. As the Chairman who took the mantle and pushed through H.R. 1, I am certain that we did not sacrifice our core principles for cheap political gains.

In January, I unveiled what I call “the Real Deal on Homeland Security.” This 8-point platform sets the framework for my goals as the Chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security.

They are: Improving the Functionality, Governance, and Accountability at DHS; Securing All Modes of Transportation; Enhancing Response, Resilience, and Recovery Capabilities; Shielding the Nation’s Critical Infrastructure from Domestic and Foreign Terrorists; Securing the Homeland and Preserving Civil Liberties in Times of Terror; Sharing Intelligence and Improving Interoperability; Implementing Common Sense Border and Port Security; and Inspiring Minds and Developing Technology to Secure the Homeland.

H.R. 1 touches on all eight of these priorities. But there is much left to be done. The fact is, that H.R. 1 is not the end, but rather the beginning. This Administration and the Department must understand that the demands of the 9/11 families and the Nation cannot be minimized.

In closing, I want to let you know that now is the time for aggressive oversight.

That is the least we can do to honor the nearly 3,000 who died on September 11, 2001."

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FOR MORE INFORMATION: Please contact Dena Graziano or Todd Levett at (202) 225-9978.

Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS)

Rep. Bennie G. Thompson

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