House Dems criticize homeland security efforts

House Dems criticize homeland security efforts

Democrats on the House Homeland Security Select Committee today criticized the administration's homeland security efforts as 'woefully inadequate.'

Initial findings of a minority members' study said that the nation is more secure now than on Sept. 11, 2001, but that the bar for security has been set too low.

'Gaps in our homeland security continue to exist, and the Bush administration is not moving fast enough and is not taking strong enough action to effectively close them,' the minority report said.

Rep. Jim Turner, ranking committee member, said leadership from the executive branch has not been adequate.

'We are calling on the administration to adopt a greater sense of urgency in closing the security gap,' Turner said in a press conference Friday.

The Democrats criticized the Homeland Security Department for not adequately protecting the nation's cyber-infrastructure and not effectively using IT in its own operations.

'Criticism of the administration's ineffective use of information technology to improve homeland security is nearly universal,' they concluded.

The report, 'America at Risk: The State of Homeland Security,' also found inadequate funding and oversight in intelligence, safeguarding of nuclear material, aviation security, border and port security, chemical plant security, bioterrorism and first-responder preparedness.

Turner said the report was not partisan criticism, but a 'legitimate expression of rigorous congressional oversight.'

It criticized the White House approach to cybersecurity, pointing out that the President's Critical Infrastructure Protection Board has been disbanded and that there is now no presidential adviser in that area. 'The top cybersecurity position in the government is now'buried deep within DHS,' the report said.

It also found that implementation of recommendations in the National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace is behind schedule, and that there is no leadership to carry out the strategy.

The Democrats called DHS IT management unstable, pointing to a reported 45 percent turnover among division CIOs in the year-old department. They criticized failure to integrate various terrorist watch lists, lack of real-time information sharing by agencies, and an inability to integrate basic administrative systems for personnel and payroll.

Turner said Congress must 'provide the leadership, the funding, the sense of urgency needed' for DHS to integrate and update IT systems.

The Democrats plan to issue a full report next month with specific proposals for closing security gaps. Turner said there are only rough estimates, at best, of the cost for these tasks, but that a DHS authorization bill will be the committee's major undertaking this year.

'Many of the activities we have talked about can be addressed in an authorization bill,' he said.

DHS Secretary Tom Ridge has been invited to testify before the committee in February to lay out the department's budget needs, Turner said.

Other legislation addressing security shortcomings include a House bill to revamp first-responder grant systems and establish standards for preparedness, and a Senate bill on chemical industry safety.

Turner said the Homeland Security Department had not formally responded to the findings.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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