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Speech: The 9/11 Legislation & the Private Sector


Chairman's Speech

"The 9/11 Legislation and the Private Sector"

April 24, 2007 (Washington) - Today, Congressman Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), Chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security, delivered the following speech entitled "The 9/11 Legislation and the Private Sector" at an event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"Let me say on the outset that I know I'm preaching to the choir - but, I firmly believe that private sector preparedness begins and ends with the private sector. As owners and operators of 85 percent of our nation's critical infrastructure, the private sector absolutely must lead our efforts to protect our most critical assets.

You represent the private sector industries that provide the Nation's drinking water, food supply, energy system, financial sector, telecommunications network, and transportation systems. That said the government plays an important role in private sector preparedness.

The grim fact is that al-Qaeda and Timothy McVeigh have already exposed the vulnerabilities of the country's infrastructure to terrorist. That is why, as the first action as Chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security, I had the privilege of steering H.R. 1 toward a veto proof passage in the House of Representatives with 299 votes. My colleagues and I have made the commitment to enhancing our national security policy and fulfilling the 9/11 Commission's recommendations such as strengthening critical infrastructure security and improving private sector preparedness.

In drafting H.R. 1, the Committee wanted to preserve flexibility and facilitate the sharing of information between the private sector and government. You should know that the Committee understands that you cannot adopt a one-size-fits-all approach.

It is all too-clear that 'risk' varies from sector to sector. We have to look at the dollar impact, resiliency, and the possible domino effect that may be triggered by an attack on our infrastructure.

'Public-private partnership' is a term that gets used a lot. But, it's important that we all work together to give it meaning - Congress, Homeland Security and the Administration, and the private sector. Personally, I'm concerned that "partnership" efforts that date back to the early 90s -- still has not moved forward in an effective manner.

To be sure, we have a lot of acronyms - PCIIP, ISAC, and SCC to name a few - but we are still falling short on our efforts. It is frustrating to me and I know it must be to a lot of you in this room as well.

When you work extensively with the Administration to complete things like sector-specific plans and they are held up in government bureaucracy-- it is hard to not question the partnership.

You should know that the Committee has requested the 17 sector plans from the Department. But we must create an effective partnership--and I hope we can remedy this situation soon. I must say, I appreciate the commitment of the private sector to improving the baseline for homeland security and to implementing the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. That is what I attempted to do in H.R. 1.

Dialogues like this one today are important because they contribute to strengthening the partnership, which is one of the many important goals of our 9/11 legislation. I understand that the private sector has concerns about how we in Congress are thinking about private sector preparedness and critical infrastructure protection.

We've heard from many of you, and we encourage all sectors to let us know your thoughts and impressions. We have heard concerns about over-emphasizing the role of standards in homeland security. I look forward to hearing what this group has to say about that.

I also want to hear about the private sector's partnership with DHS on best practices and a risk-based approach. And how we should consider those items in the 9/11 conference.

We have also heard concerns about the National Asset Database and making sure that the private sector has a role there, too. That is another area we will take a hard look at while heading towards conference.

The private sector has also expressed concerns about the fact that while assets are considered for the Database, functions are not. That is something that's very important to the IT and communications sectors, and we need to think about where the 'function' approach can be considered. These are among the many issues we will address as we head into conference.

Your input is critical as we think about the role of private sector with regard to training and exercises, information sharing, and risk assessment. As I said earlier, private sector preparedness begins and ends with the private sector. As Chairman, I hope to use your valuable input to communicate with the conferees as we collectively work to improve public-private partnership to secure the Nation."

# # #

United States House of Representatives
Committee on Homeland Security
H2-176, Ford House Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20515
Phone: (202) 226-2616 | Fax: (202) 226-4499

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