O P E N I N G S T A T E M E N T
Senator George V. Voinovich
EPW Hearing on the Response to September 11TH
Tuesday September 23, 2002
Mr. Chairman, thank you for calling today’s hearing on the response to September 11TH. It is very important to examine, evaluate, and learn from the federal government’s response to this horrific event so we can be better prepared if anything like it were to happen again.
First, I would like to emphasize that this attack was an unprecedented event in the history of our nation and the world. Shortly after the attack, I toured Ground Zero and was overcome by the size, scale, and devastation of the site. As many of my colleagues know, seeing the carnage on television was nothing like actually being there. Nothing could have prepared us for the gut-wrenching reaction to this savage act.
Nonetheless, one of the main lessons of September 11TH is that we must be prepared for unprecedented events. Our freedom and open society make us vulnerable to evil in this world, and to those who openly seek to destroy our way of life.
In Congress, we have taken several steps to ensure that America is less vulnerable to another massive attack by improving airport security, border patrol, immigration procedures, and we are working to create a new Department of Homeland Security. The new Department is essential to ensuring better coordinated and stronger defenses against terrorism.
As part of our strategy to defend against a future attack, we must also improve our response system. Although September 11TH will forever be a day marked by grief and anger, it is also a day when we were reminded of the bravery and sacrifice of those who fearlessly face danger every day as firemen, policemen, and emergency workers. Americans should be proud of the quick response of New York rescue workers and volunteer workers from across the country who responded to the call for help.
We in Congress must be sure our first responders are the most prepared and best equipped for the new dangers we face, such as biological and chemical agents. And I think that concern is enhanced as we learn more and more about the dangers posed to us by Iraq and the potential dangers if their weapons of mass destruction get into the wrong hands. Just look at how a small amount of anthrax last year caused mayhem in the Congress.
I am particularly proud of the 74 members of Ohio Task Force One who were mobilized on September 11TH and were among the first out-of-state FEMA teams to provide assistance at the site, where they worked until September 20TH. I welcome Mr. Jack Reall, who is here to testify as one of the Task Force’s leaders at the World Trade Center.
In the past year, I have been in contact with EPA Administrator Whitman and FEMA Director Allbaugh about the health of these workers. While I appreciate the information I received from the EPA on air monitoring, I am concerned that we lack a well-coordinated effort to disseminate information. Recently, my staff forwarded this information to the members of the Ohio Task Force, but we need to develop a reliable system for sharing information with all the workers at Ground Zero. Furthermore, we need to provide additional information on the long-term exposure risks and the presence of other pollutants.
I have been told that some of the responders to the World Trade Center still have health problems; that others will be on permanent disability, and that all of the responders may have long-term problems. I am outraged that no one seems to be managing the effort to provide information and health care to these workers. The Captain of the Ohio Task Force told me last week that if I could figure out who was in charge of disseminating health data then I should be President!
I am equally upset that reassurances were given prematurely last year regarding health risk and exposure to the workers and the residents around the World Trade Center. Knowing what we know now, the statements from EPA last fall were inaccurate and ambiguous at best. What is important today is that people exposed last year receive clear guidance from the federal government as to their long-term health risks. Their doctors need to know what to look for and what to expect.
We cannot afford to allow misleading statements about air quality to be made in the future. Starting now, we need a clear process to gather data, understand and minimize risks, and disseminate information. In today’s hearing, I want answers to two questions. First, what are you going to do to take care of the people who were injured last year? Second, I want to know specifically what will be done differently to protect those who respond to disasters of this magnitude.
I commend Senator Clinton on taking a step in the right direction with her bill S. 1621 to create a program for the protection of the health and safety of the community, volunteers, and workers in a disaster area. I joined her as a cosponsor of this legislation because I have heard firsthand the many concerns of the Ohio Task Force and I believe this legislation addresses the right issues. Whether people want to be first responders in the future, depends on how first responders from the World Trade Center are treated.
Mr. Chairman, the real issue here is the same that I brought up at last week’s Transportation Streamlining hearing. We need the right people at the agencies to get the job done.
Director Allbaugh, I remember clearly your testimony earlier this year in which you described the workforce needs at your agency:
“…We have not been spending enough time internally on our employees. Before 9-11, retention was a problem and there was essentially no recruitment. Over the next 18 months, nearly 50 percent of our agency is eligible for retirement and since 9-11 retirements have accelerated.
“The people who worked at Ground Zero came to my office with a different perspective on life – wanting to spend more time with their kids, grandkids and spouses.”
One of the most important things we can do to address Director Allbaugh’s concerns is to pass my human capital amendments as part of the Homeland Security bill.
Again, thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this hearing. I join you in welcoming each of the witnesses who have come to testify. I look forward to their testimony and to their answers to any questions that may follow.