Homeland Security is important to our district and to my work in Congress.
It is important that we sufficiently protect our citizens within our borders and keep out those that would do us harm. Homeland Security is not just protecting our borders and screening the cargo that comes through our ports. It also includes providing adequate training and equipment for our first responders – police, firemen, and emergency medical personnel. These courageous people work on the front lines, often entering into dangerous and uncertain situations.
In the 111th Congress, I introduced H.R. 706, the National Urban Search and Rescue System Act. The bill was also sponsored by Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC), the Ranking Member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management.
H.R. 706 would consolidate the authorization of the National Urban Search and Rescue program and place its authority in one section of the Stafford Act. This would help ensure that the Urban Search and Rescue can competently and proficiently respond to a wide range of natural disasters.
Further, the bill would ensure Urban Search and Rescue Task Force members are given secure uniform workers compensation and tort liability protection under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, which currently provides such protections to activated National Guard and reserve members.
The National Urban Search and Rescue System comprises of various task forces across the nation specializing in rescue and recovery from natural disasters including hurricanes, earthquakes and various other emergencies, both national and local. There are currently 28 task forces nationwide, including Urban Search and Rescue Task Force 1, based in Memphis.
I am working hard to provide additional funds for our first responders. I also believe those serving in our military should consider a career as a first responder after they finish their military service. To encourage more veterans to consider a career as a first-responder, I am working toward creating a smooth transition process for them.
War on Terror / Protecting the Home Front
In order to recognize President Obama’s successful policies on Homeland Security and the War on Terror, I am a proud cosponsor of the H.Res. 240 , which commends President Obama as well as the Navy Seals and other members of the armed services and intelligence communities involved in the operation that led to the death of Osama bin Laden.
In the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations for 2012, I successfully supported the Clarke-Higgins-Reichert-Tonko Amendment that removed language from the bill which would have restricted funding for the Urban Area Security Initiative for all but 10 cities in the U.S. The restriction to 10 urban areas would have endangered the progress of our community to prevent, protect against, respond to and recover from terrorist attacks and other disasters.
On June 24, 2009, the House passed H.R. 2892, Department of Homeland Security Appropriations for 2010. This legislation funded the U.S. Department of Homeland Security along with providing crucial funding for the U.S. Coast Guard and border security efforts. The bill also continued a number of important federal grant programs to help local firefighters, police offices and emergency personnel have the training and resources they need to carry out their important role in our community.
The House Representatives included my amendment which requested to increase national funding for the Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) Nonprofit Security Grant program by $3 million. The Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) Nonprofit Security Grant Program is aimed at providing local communities with funding support to increase security at nonprofit organizations – such as hospitals and national landmarks -- that are considered to be at high risk for terrorist attacks.
Memphis is home to a number of important facilities including the Med, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, and other great hospitals and research facilities. The Urban Areas Security Initiative Nonprofit Security Grant program is an important program that helps fund support for the not-for-profits that are vital to our communities' ongoing security and safety. Memphis is able to compete for a greater share of Homeland Security dollars.
During the 110th Congress, I was also a co-sponsor of H.R.1 - Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007. The bill put into action the recommendations that the 9/11 Commission released in July 2004. For all of the talk about making our country safer, it is unfortunate that it took two and a half years and a change in Congressional leadership to pass the 9/11 recommendations. H.R. 1 provided for:
- Greater distribution of homeland security grants for states and high-risk urban areas based on risk of terrorism, while still ensuring that all states have funds available for basic preparedness. Each state is guaranteed a minimum of .375 percent of funds in FY 2008 to prevent, prepare for, respond to, and recover from terrorist attacks, scaling down to a minimum of 0.35 percent in 2012.
- $1.8 billion authorization for FY 2008 to assist states and high-risk urban areas in preparing for terrorist threats; $400 million authorization for Emergency Management Performance Grants to assist states in preparing for all-hazards, and $400 million annually beginning in FY09 for interoperable emergency communications – all as part of an overall effort to ensure that all states have basic capabilities to prepare for and respond to both man-made and natural disasters.
- A dedicated interoperability grant program to improve interoperability at local, state, and federal levels.
- More than $4 billion over four years for rail, transit, and bus security grants. $250 million annually for airport checkpoint screening, $450 million annually for baggage screening, and $50 million annually for the next four years for aviation security R&D. 100 percent screening within five years of maritime cargo before it’s loaded on ships in foreign ports bound for the U.S. Secretary of Department of Homeland Security may extend deadline by two-year increments.
- Screening of all cargo carried on passenger airplanes within three years. Protection from lawsuits for people who in good faith report what they believe is terrorist activity in and around airplanes, trains, and buses.
- Stronger security measures for Visa Waiver Program, which allows travelers from select countries to visit the U.S. without a visa, through creation of a new Electronic Travel Authorization system and improved reporting of lost and stolen passports.
- President to publicly disclose the total amount appropriated for the intelligence community. After the next two fiscal years the President may waive the disclosure requirement only if it would harm national security.
Additionally, I voted for H.R. 4986, the Defense Authorization Act, which provided an additional $980 million to reset the National Guard and Reserve, money that is much needed because of the prolonged conflict in Iraq. The bill also directs the Department of Defense (DoD) to report on the state-by-state capability of the National Guard to respond to homeland missions, such as disaster response.
Legislative efforts in the 112th Congress (2011/2012)
This legislation will increase federal funding for fire prevention and firefighter safety programs. The Fire Grants Re-authorization Act provides an authorization of $1 billion per fiscal year for the Assistant to Firefighter Grant (AFG) program, which provides money to fire departments to purchase equipment, fire trucks and other resources, and to fund training programs. The legislation authorizes $1.194 billion per year for the SAFER program, which provides money to fire departments to hire additional firefighters.
Legislative efforts in the 111th Congress (2009/2010)
The Laboratory Surge Capacity Preparedness Act was created in response to the possible spread of “Swine Flu” (H1N1 virus) and the preceding Avian Flu scare. The bill seeks $24 million to ensure that our nation has the surge capacity needed to adequately respond to acts of bio-terrorism and pandemics. State and local laboratories known as the Laboratory Response Network (LRN) were established by the Centers for Disease Control to respond to outbreaks of infectious disease.
An additional network of bio-safety level-3 labs known as Regional Bio-containment Laboratories (RBLs) are intended to be utilized when the capacity of the LRN’s are overrun by an outbreak of a major infectious disease. This legislation will ensure that the RBL’s are adequately maintained and available to fulfill their federal mandate to provide surge capacity. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared a public health emergency in the United States on April 26th, 2009. The formal declaration of a Public Health Emergency facilitates federal, state, and local agencies’ ability to gather sufficient resources for disasters and emergencies.
This legislation will provide all TSA employees with the same protections of the federal civil service system, including the right to collective bargaining, compensation, leave, healthcare and other employee rights. It would also prohibit any reduction in rate of pay or certain other rights of TSA employees upon conversion from the TSA personnel system to the federal civil service system. The bill also requires the Secretary of Homeland Security to inform the TSA employees' qualified labor organization in writing with the agency’s conversion plans and afford the organization a reasonable opportunity to present its views and recommendations.
Legislative efforts in the 110th Congress (2007/2008)
This important legislation continues the work of Congress to strengthen homeland security and build upon the 9/11 Commission's recommendations. This legislation changed homeland security grant formulas to account for short-term populations, such as tourists. For five years before this legislation was enacted in 2007, the largest homeland security grant programs distributed funds using a formula that arbitrarily sets aside a large portion of funds to be divided equally among the states, regardless of size or need. In addition, this bill also increased the amount of funding that can be allocated to states with highest risks. The new formula will be distributed overwhelmingly based on the risk to an area from a terrorist attack. The funds would be allocated through Urban Area Security Grants, State Homeland Security Grants, Emergency Management Performance Grants, and emergency communications and interoperability grants. (Signed into law 8/03/07).
This bill requires that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to complete at least one pilot project to determine if a state may enhance their driver's license to meet Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) standards. This legislation would exempt US/Canadian children 16 and younger from the WHTI documentary requirements, and encourages flexibility for school groups. It would also set the cost of the PASS card at $20 for the first year of issuance in order to encourage early compliance while requiring that card to be received within 10 business days after the State Department has received the application. It will also expand and improve frequent traveler programs for low-risk travelers (NEXUS) and commercial drivers (FAST). Requires DHS/State to develop and implement a WHTI public promotion campaign and complete a cost-benefit analysis of their final WHTI plan before implementation.
This bill would establish an Office of National School Preparedness and Response within the Office of the Secretary of Homeland Security (DHS) and gives the Director of that office primary responsibility to support of statewide, regional and national efforts to enhance the collective response to acts of terrorism and other disasters at schools. This director would serve as the principal advisor to the Secretary of DHS on the needs of schools and children in response to emergency situations and ensure that the agency’s policies, programs and activities appropriately consider the needs of and impact upon schools and children.
It would also create an Internet clearinghouse that identifies resources available to schools and ensures that education officials have input with the Government Coordinating Council. Federal funding for this legislation would be provided under the Urban Area Security Initiative and State Homeland Security Grant Program to enhance school preparedness. This legislation would promote the adoption of voluntary national standards in schools to prepare for and enable a collective response to acts of terrorism and other disasters to ensure school participation in such a collective response.