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Call For Fundamental Homeland Security Reform

For Immediate Release

Thompson Calls For Fundamental Reform At The Department Of Homeland Security

WASHINGTON -- February 16, 2006, "Congressman Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), Ranking Member of the House Committee on Homeland Security issued the following statement at today's hearing with Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff:

"This is only the third time our panel has had the opportunity to have you before us at a hearing. The last time you were before this panel was July and you came to unveil your plan to re-organize the Department. We hope to see you more often before our Committee this year.

"On a related note, in early November you and I met to discuss Hurricane Katrina and the Department's efforts. At that meeting, you suggested that you would be interested in meeting once a month behind closed doors for an informal and off-the- record discussion with Committee Members. I've put in several inquiries with your staff over the last several months to set this up and hope that you will commit today to making sure it happens in the next few weeks.

"To start off with today, there is a question that folks back home in Mississippi want answered - where is the Department of Homeland Security? I don't mean to be flip but it is sort of like we are looking for Waldo - only Waldo was a little bit easier to find. I've heard so many stories back home of a detached and inept Department of Homeland Security, that I have a hard time telling them that the Department is going to do the right thing. It is especially hard when I see that you continue to rip apart FEMA and remove its preparedness functions, even when experts and career emergency managers say that is the wrong thing to do.

"Today, confidence in FEMA and by extension, the Department of Homeland Security, is at an all-time low. Local Communities, Emergency Managers, and First Responders have lost faith in the Department, Mr. Secretary. The Department's Budget, which you are here today to defend, drastically cuts state, local, and responder programs. This does little to help you regain their trust. As the Secretary of Homeland Security, the buck stops with you - on the budget, on FEMA's weaknesses, and on the Department's dismal performance during last year's hurricanes.

"Clark Kent Ervin, the former IG of DHS, said recently that last year's hurricanes 'represented a real-life rehearsal of sorts,' and that 'the response' by your Department 'suggested that the nation is not ready to handle a terrorist attack of similar dimensions.' I agree with him that this 'is a devastating indictment of this department's performance four years after 9/11.'

"This week, several of us in this room issued a historical analysis of FEMA's performance through the years. Our review demonstrates the need for fundamental changes to how the Department and FEMA do business. FEMA needs a leader with substantial experience in emergency management. There needs to be direct access for the FEMA director to the President during an incident of national significance. And all the elements of the emergency management 'cycle' within FEMA must be unified. I recognize that making these operational changes may be difficult and even embarrassing; given how strongly you promoted your Second Stage Review, but they must be done to prevent future massive failings by the government.

"Mr. Secretary, I look forward to hearing your testimony about the Department's Fiscal Year 2007 budget priorities. As I noted earlier, the cuts to first responders and local communities for grants and training, including the Emergency Management Preparedness Grant program, are very troubling. This budget does little to address the preparedness and response deficiencies laid bare by Hurricane Katrina. It also continues to leave glaring gaps in our nation's border, port, mass transit, aviation and critical infrastructure security, among other things."


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