Issues Area

»Home   »Issues Area   print page email page

Thompson Says Local Support is Key to Securing Nation

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Today, Congressman Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), Chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security, delivered the following address to the 75th Winter Meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) entitled "Partnering with America’s Cities for a Strengthened America":

"As a former mayor, I know from experience that you have your jobs cut out for you. You are the ones folks blame when things go wrong in a community and the ones who only occasionally get a pat on the back for getting things right.

I'm here to tell you -- as someone who has traveled that mile in your shoes – You have a friend in Washington in the Committee on Homeland Security. As Chairman of the Committee, you can count on us to help you build “Stronger Cities, Stronger Families, and a Stronger America."

I absolutely believe that the key to homeland security is the "home" part.

Our local talent – whether it is the firefighters, the police, the EMTs, the ma-and-pop businesses, or the local government officials like you – are the ones that are going to be our first preventers and first responders in an emergency. That is why the first thing I did as Chairman is introduce H.R. 1 – a bill to implement the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. I'm happy to say it overwhelmingly passed in the House, with bipartisan support. This bill was necessary because more than five years since September 11th and - almost four years since the creation of the Department—the nation is still not well prepared for a major emergency. To assist us in better preparation for major emergencies, H.R. 1 calls for the Department to distribute a larger portion of homeland security dollars based on risk.

At the same time, however, we need to ensure that states with lower risk are guaranteed a minimum of 0.25%. In short, we want all states and their cities to reach a minimum level of preparedness. I know that many in this room are calling for direct funding to cities. H.R 1 penalizes states that fail to pass through the grant funds to local governments within 45 days by reducing that state’s portion of the grant funds and by allowing the Secretary to make the grants directly to the local government.

H.R. 1 also creates, for the first time in the Department of Homeland Security, a dedicated interoperability grant program. That way, cities won’t be forced to rob Peter to pay Paul by using large chunks of homeland security grant funding - in some instances 80% - to purchase communications equipment instead of securing bridges, ports, and buildings. Now, there are those who say cities do not need anymore money since Congress created a $1 billion interoperability grant program at the Department of Commerce. As a former volunteer firefighter for 26 years and former locally elected official, I know that the interoperability problem costs well into the billions. We need leadership at the Federal level, but we can also not lose sight of the fact that more than 90% of the public safety communication infrastructure in the United States is owned and operated at the local and state level. Congress must also be willing to provide the long term sustainable funding necessary to develop interoperable communication networks.

H.R. 1 will make it easier for state, local, and tribal governments to conduct exercises meant to reinforce the National Incident Management System (NIMS), the Incident Management System (ICS), and the concepts of a unified command system. Hurricane Katrina should push all levels of government to improve their coordination efforts.

H.R. 1 also addresses strengthening airport security because the reality is that cities thrive because they are centers of commerce and culture. That is why H.R. 1 calls for the screening of air cargo and provides more support for airport, baggage, and checkpoint security.

Likewise our port security must improve. H.R. 1 would require all containers leaving the largest ports overseas to be inspected using the best-available technology, including scanning for radiation and density, before they are loaded onto a ship destined for the United States. The bill calls for a phase in process of three to five years because Congress will not impose impractical economic mandates on America’s cities.

I am committed to exploring ways we can improve intelligence and information sharing among the Federal Government and State, local, and tribal law enforcement. We simply cannot have a secure homeland if we fail to provide the officers who patrol our streets with the information they need to detect and help stop terrorist and related criminal activity. We need to do so, however, in a way that does not compromise civil rights and civil liberties. I also advocate strengthening intelligence fusion centers by authorizing a program that will help them detail officers to state fusion centers by defraying the costs associated with details.

Mass transit, rail, and over-the-road bus security is critical to every mayor in this room. Millions of people who live in our cities use these modes of transportation everyday. According to your studies, more than 7.8 billion trips were taken on public transit in the first nine months of 2006. Despite this fact, the Department of Homeland Security has failed to take adequate steps to prioritize mass transit and security. This failure continues even after the horrific attacks in Madrid, London, and Mumbai. I am unwilling to let the Department continue to sit on the sidelines. My colleagues and I will be introducing legislation next month mandating specific steps that the Department must take to finally secure these vital systems.

Our legislation focuses on vulnerability assessments and security plans, ways to share strategic information, the development of security training programs, and funding for various initiatives.

In closing, I want to tell you that as Chairman I intend to provide the Department with the tools and resources it needs to simplify the grant process for cities. At the same time, Congress will make sure that it does not pass the buck of securing the homeland to our cities. I thank you for your time today and look forward to a productive 110th Congress with you as a key partner."

# # #

Please contact Dena Graziano or Todd Levett at (202) 226-2616.

Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS)

Rep. Bennie G. Thompson

Sign up to receive the latest news from the Democrats of the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee.