``The Challenge: Preparing and Preventing Terrorism at Home''
Statement of U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd
Deilivered at the U.S. Senate 4/11/02
Part of the genius of the American Constitution can be found in its brevity. It is short and its "shortness" has allowed for flexibility and adaptation over the years. The Founders were not writing a bureaucratic treatise. They were creating a framework for the ages. Their genius is underlined by the adaptability they built into the structure of a new government born of turmoil and most certainly destined to encounter the winds of radical change in the future.
In concept, we are faced with a challenge not unlike that of the framers as they sought to revise the Articles of Confederation. We need to think of restructuring old mechanisms if we are to seriously endeavor to protect our homeland to survive in a changed and volatile world.
September 11 raised heretofore unthinkable issues for this nation. Although we had been warned about the possibility of a terrorist attack on our own soil for years by Commissions, academics, and pundits, we did not believe in our national heart of hearts that it could happen here. We were too strong; we were too civilized; we were too geographically distant from the chaotic world of suicide bombers and religious iconoclasts to ever face terrorism on our own soil. We were a rich nation. We were well-armed and powerful. We were safe on our own soil. Then the towers fell. And all of our preconceived notions of safety and insulation from the capricious whims of madmen fell with them.
We had taken it all so much for granted--our prosperity, our security, our special status in the world. We responded quickly, to our credit, in the way that Americans do so well, with herculean volunteer efforts, quick infusions of cash by the Congress, and confidence building rhetoric from the White House.
Now, we are seven months out from the tragedy of September 11, and have had time to form a clearer image of the challenges before us. What has become apparent after the settling of the dust of the turmoil is that we have no organized way of actually dealing with terrorist attacks on our own soil.
The usual bureaucratic structures for running our huge nation in times of peace or even in times of conventional warfare do not work when it comes to dealing with the chaos caused by terror attacks on our homeland. We have relied on conventional mechanisms. We have spent little effort contemplating what must be changed.
We have asked the brave firefighters and policemen at the local level to be at the ready to respond, yet we have, incomprehensibly, withheld many of the essential tools to assist them. We have seen the holes in our public health system when faced with anthrax attacks in the mail, yet, surge capacity in our hospitals, personnel trained in recognizing rare diseases, and vaccines to treat those diseases are still months if not years away.
We have heard in this room, over the past two days, a plethora of basic problems for those on the ground, from incompatible broadcast and communications systems, to security clearances mired in bureaucratic red tape, to national guard troops stretched thin and, in some cases, expected to guard areas without arms.
We have heard tales of little or no real direction from the Federal government in assessing risk and pinpointing vulnerabilities. We have heard from experts on terrorism that our vulnerabilities can be easily exploited using little money and weapons fashioned from readily available sources.
We have been given a picture of valiant efforts by good citizens, but little thought from the federal government about coordination, prevention of duplication and waste, or effective use of resource sharing from the Federal government.
We will learn more, but one thing has begun to clearly emerge. We are not prepared. We are still vulnerable. In many instances, seven months out from the horrors of September 11, we have not even started to spend funds placed in the pipeline just days after the attacks. We must act and act quickly to address these new challenges. This will mean rising above the usual bureaucratic turf battles; figuring out how to address a problem which crosses the jurisdictions of Departments and agencies; building a new flexibility into our solidified government structures; and thinking about federal, state and local relations in a new way.
Our challenge is huge. It is not just to prepare, it is to also prevent. It is not just to respond, it is also to coordinate.
Our leaders will have to be wise enough to take every step needed to protect our citizens without infringing on their liberties, but we will also have to provide new technological tools to guard our borders and protect our essential infrastructure. We in this Committee are appropriators. It is not in our usual domain to legislate to repair planning and organizational deficiencies. But it is our duty to point out the deficiencies, offer help and urge action. And it is our duty to try to see that the tax dollar does what it is intended to do and is not wasted. When the funding is of such paramount importance as providing for the defense of our homeland, that duty becomes sacred.
It is obvious that the Office of Homeland Security as crafted in the aftermath of 911 is not now suited to the long-term challenge of protecting this enormous, diverse, and very open society. I do not fault anyone for this. We are seven months away from the largest domestic emergency in our history, and we are now in a better position to more clearly assess our needs.
But, I do fault the Executive Branch for digging in--for clinging to a concept that is proving to be more and more inadequate, for thinking that a spokesman/advisor is enough to address an enormous managerial, tactical and strategic problem, and for focusing too much on defense abroad instead of defense in our own streets. And I do fault the Executive Branch for delay.
There is too much at stake to allow the Office of Homeland Security to continue in an unstructured and unaccountable fashion. Congress should move forward to make this Office a Cabinet-level office with clear responsibility and authority.
Senator Stevens and I have repeatedly requested an opportunity to hear Director Ridge`s views on homeland security. After two days of testimony which has raised many new and very disturbing questions, the essential nature of that formal testimony is underlined in red.
This Committee is charged with funding the people`s needs. It is clear from these hearings that we need much more information to do that in a way that is effective in accomplishing the goal of homeland security. The people are owed an explanation by the Director of Homeland Security about how he would correct the glaring deficiencies in our patchwork web of protection and response. If the White House wants $38 billion for this effort, this Committee needs to hear much more about the way in which it is to be spent in order to give this nation maximum and effective protection from terrorist attacks.
We will continue these hearings. We will continue to invite Director Ridge to come before us. May this Administration have the wisdom to direct him to do so. And may we all have the wisdom and courage to do whatever is necessary to protect our homeland.