OPENING STATEMENT OF SENATOR HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON
HEARING OF THE COMMITTEE ON THE ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS ON HOMELAND SECURITY
JULY 10, 2002
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.† And thank you, Governor Ridge for appearing before the Committee to discuss the President's proposal for a new Department of Homeland Security.†
The attacks on September 11 exposed our vulnerability within America's borders and the need for new thinking about ways to protect ourselves.† We learned that we were, in many ways, unprepared.†
We have also learned that there is a greater need for more communication between the more than 100 agencies that both attempt to prevent attacks and also respond to attacks after they occur.† An information-sharing bill I introduced, with Senators Leahy, Hatch, and Schumer back in October was designed to address this issue, as between among federal agencies AND among federal, state, and local homeland security and law enforcement entities
The Administration's proposal for a new Cabinet agency, the Department of Homeland Security requires Congress to consider carefully whether this new Department will solve the coordination and communication problems that have plagued our homeland security apparatus.†
We now know firsthand what we are up against, and what we need to be prepared for in the future.† We have seen the devastating impacts, and have been confronted by challenges we may not have anticipated.
We need to learn from our experiences in the wake of September 11, and to make certain that in the future we have the capability to protect ourselves and - God forbid - be able to respond if need be.††
In New York, we have been constantly grappling with air quality issues resulting from the destruction of the towers Ė air quality both outside and inside buildings.† Questions have lingered over what government entities are responsible for indoor air quality.† There has been confusion over what standards should be used to best protect public health, and whether schools and other buildings have been adequately cleaned.
On a related matter, I want to commend the Environmental Protection Agency for undertaking such a process and developing its own Lessons Learned report.† This is a thorough and honest assessment, and provides significant insights and recommendations regarding the Agency's response capabilities.†
But the report raises some very serious questions, which is why I am asking that the Committee's staff review this report - and I recommend it to all of my colleagues as well.† And it is my hope that the Chairman and Ranking Member will grant an oversight hearing, so that we, too, can learn from EPA's own experience in responding to the events of September 11.†
Based on what we learn, we need to act to ensure that issues outlined in the EPA's report are adequately addressed - whether through providing additional resources, taking administrative actions, or if need be - through legislation - perhaps the legislation we are here to discuss today.† I am prepared to introduce free-standing legislation if necessary.† And I am interested in hearing today from Governor Ridge as to how the Administration has responded to the findings and recommendations of the EPA report.
In addition to the issues raised by the EPAís recent report, I have several concerns about the new Homeland Security Department that I hope will be addressed by Governor Ridge today. The new Department would have nuclear and radiological protection as a major focus.† However, no NRC functions have been transferred in the Administrationís proposal.† As you know, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission regulates civilian nuclear infrastructure in the U.S., including security requirements.† I look forward to hearing how the Administration views the new Department playing a role in nuclear reactor security.
I have heard from local communities and first responders from all across America about the tremendous personnel, technical, and financial burdens they have borne since September 11th.† They did this even when the federal government didn't provide the resources to help them; they knew, regardless of the burden, what had to be done to protect the citizens in their communities.† I hope the new homeland security department will work closely and in a coordinated fashion with our states and local governments and with our first responders across the country to ensure that we have the strongest homeland defense possible.
Last fall, I wrote to Governor Ridge to request that he designate a point person in his office with responsibility for Northern Border issues.† As the law enforcement functions of the INS are integrated with the border control functions of the Customs Service in the new Department, it is critically important that the new Department include a position with specific responsibility for Northern border issues.
One issue that is not being adequately addressed in our post 9-11 environment is how our government will .† I hope that Governor Ridge will explain how the Homeland Security Department will coordinate with the Department of Health and Human Services in order address the mental health needs of our Nation.††
Finally, I have serious concerns about the Administrationís proposal to create a workforce that could be exempted from whistleblower protection and collective bargaining rights. We need to be able to recruit the best possible employees for this new agency and this legislation should not barriers to the recruitment and retention of talented individuals.†
Further, I have concerns about the Administrationís bill exempting the new Department from the Freedom of Information Act.† FOIA plays an important role in ensuring that there is adequate oversight of our government.†
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.† I look forward to hearing to todayís testimony from Governor Ridge.†