HOMETOWN SECURITY WORKERS TO CONGRESS: WE CAN'T DO IT ALONE
WASHINGTON, DC - More resources and direction are needed from the federal government to secure America's hometowns, testified an unprecedented collection of local officials, first responders and experts involved in hometown security today on Capitol Hill. As Congress debated the Homeland Security appropriations bill, witnesses appearing at the Democratic Task Force on Homeland Security's public forum on hometown security clearly sent the message that Congress has placed too much of the burden of fighting terrorism on local governments.
Furthermore, when money has actually reached the local governments, the Department of Homeland Security has given little to no guidance about how best to spend it, witnesses said.
"Our hometowns are desperate for help, but Congress continues to turn a cold shoulder," said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (NY-14), Chair of the Task Force. "While we listened to impassioned pleas for help from our hometowns, the House leadership was busy next door shortchanging hometown security. That is sad irony."
"Today's hearing organized by Homeland Security Task Force Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney brings together experts who gave the American people straight answers about the state of homeland security. One of them, Mayor Christian Bollwage of Elizabeth, is from my Congressional District -- right across the Hudson River from Ground Zero. He was there that day. He was on the front lines, and has been fighting for port security and local first responder funding ever since, and will not give up until this Administration and this Congress start matching the tough talk with some tough action," said House Democratic Chairman Bob Menendez (NJ-13), who chaired the forum with Maloney. "There is a difference between Democrats and Republicans when it comes to homeland security: Republicans will talk tough, but when it comes time to get the resources to our local front lines, to our cities and towns, they're missing in action. Democrats want tougher, smarter security measures to be put in place today. We have the technologies, we have the expertise, we have the human talent, but this Administration and this Republican Congress have committed so much money to tax cuts that they don't have much left to make our homeland safer."
"We must move faster and take stronger steps to give America's first responders the training and equipment they need to protect us here at home," said Rep. Jim Turner (TX-2), Ranking Member of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security.
The Homeland Security appropriations bill before the House includes a $300 million reduction in high-threat money for 30 cities from last year's spending package.
Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge recently claimed that the idea that there is too little local homeland security funding is "misinformation." Yesterday, Maloney sent a letter to Sec. Ridge questioning that statement. Today's testimony was further rebuke of Ridge's claim.
The Task Force heard from an eclectic group of homeland security workers from across the country. Mayors, county officials, first responders and homeland security experts told their personal stories about their efforts to make their hometowns safe from terrorism.
One witness who took a broader look at homeland security was Rand Beers, a former National Security Council expert under the current administration who quit due to his disagreements with the president's homeland security policy. Beers, who now works for Sen. John Kerry's presidential campaign, told the Task Force that the administration's foreign and domestic policies have shortcomings related to homeland security.
The Task Force decided to invite local officials and first responders to testify on Capitol Hill because the Congress has not held such a hearing to this point.
LETTER FROM MALONEY TO RIDGE: