Senate Democrats

Democrats’ New Direction for Homeland Security Will Make America More Secure

On March 13, 2007, Senate Democrats led the effort to pass S.4, Improving America’s Security Act of 2007, by a vote of 60-38.  The legislation takes a major step toward fully implementing the recommendations of the bipartiS.Amdt.9/11 Commission and effectively marks a change of course after years of inadequate action on critical homeland security needs.  The bill will make America more secure by:

  • giving our first responders the tools they need to keep us safe;
  • making it more difficult for potential terrorists to travel into our country;
  • advancing efforts to secure our rail, air, and mass transit systems; and
  • improving intelligence and information sharing at all levels of state, local, and federal law enforcement.

Preparedness and emergency response.  S.4 will advance initiatives to strengthen prevention and preparedness against terrorist attacks.  Specifically, the legislation will:

  • Provide $3.1 billion in terrorism and all-hazards preparedness grants to states and urban areas.  The bill authorizes $3.105 billion for each of the next three years (Fiscal Years 2008-2011) for the Urban Area Security Initiative, the State Homeland Security Grant Program, and Emergency Management Performance Grants Program. 
  • Revise the current grant distribution formula to ensure that the majority of funds are provided to the states and cities at greatest risk for a terrorist attack.  Without a system in place to ensure that limited resources for homeland security are distributed on the basis of the greatest risks and vulnerabilities of attack, our nation’s limited funds have not been allocated in a way that best protects our homeland.  This legislation takes a number of steps toward achieving a more strategic system for distributing homeland security grants.  It will:
  • Eliminate requirements for minimum per-state allocations of grant funds under the Urban Area Security Initiative, to require that grants to metropolitan areas under the program be allocated entirely on the basis of the threat, vulnerability, and consequences of a terrorist attack; 
  • Lowers the level of minimum funding to be provided to states under the State Homeland Security Grant Program – from 0.75 percent to 0.45 percent; and
  • Requires that at least 25 percent of the overall funding for urban area and state homeland security grants (at least $548 million) be used for law enforcement terrorism prevention activities.

At the same time, the legislation codifies the current allocation formula under the Emergency Management Performance Grants Program, which would guarantee that each state receives 0.75 percent of the total allocation of the program.  Together, these provisions will ensure that funds are distributed overwhelmingly on the basis of risk, while also ensuring that all states and localities have the basic capabilities to prepare for and respond to terrorist attacks or natural disasters.

  • Improve communications operability and interoperability for first responders.  In the years since 9/11 and the more than eighteen months since the failed response to Katrina, the necessary actions have not been taken to ensure communications interoperability for emergency responders.  In a report released earlier this year, the Department of Homeland Security gave only six of 75 metropolitan areas in the United States the highest rating for interoperable communications.  This bill will take significant steps to address this critical shortcoming in our nation’s security.  It creates a grant program, which will be administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), dedicated to improving operability and interoperability at local, regional, state and federal levels.  It authorizes $3.3 billion over five years, with a provision requiring that a minimum of 0.75 percent of total funds be appropriated for each state. (Department of Homeland Security, January 2007)
  • Bolster biosurveillance initiatives.  The bill authorizes the establishment of a National Biosurveillance Integration Center, which would develop the capacity to rapidly identify and track outbreaks following a bioterrorist attack or a naturally occurring pandemic.
  • Strengthen private sector preparedness.  The legislation establishes a voluntary accreditation and certification program for private sector preparedness that would help companies develop and implement a set of standards for increasing preparedness.

Transportation Security. The bill includes a number of provisions to address the security gaps that have continued to exist in our transportation systems more than five years since 9/11.  These measures will:

  • Enhance air cargo security and baggage screening.  According to the Department of Homeland Security, most air cargo carried on passenger aircraft is not screened for explosives, leaving passenger flights vulnerable to terrorist attack.  The bill addresses this major security concern by requiring DHS to establish a system to Screen.100 percent of cargo carried on passenger planes within three years of the bill’s enactment.  Additionally, the legislation will authorize $450 million in discretionary funds for Fiscal Years 2007 through 2009 to fund the installation of in-line explosive detection systems (EDS) at U.S. airports at a level that reflects TSA’s strategic plan for the deployment of these systems.
  • Improve rail and transit security.  Since 9/11, the Bush Administration has provided less than $750 million of the estimated $6 billion necessary to secure our nation’s transportation systems.  This legislation would reverse this record to make a significant investment in improving the security of rail and transit systems against the veritable threat of terrorist attack.  The bill authorizes more than $4 billion for surface transportation for Fiscal Years 2007-2010.  Additionally, the bill promotes intelligence sharing initiatives and requires vulnerability and risk assessments of rail and transit security, which will serve as the foundation for strategies for guarding these systems against terrorist threats. (CQ Weekly, 3/12/07)
  • Provide Transportation Security Officers with the collective bargaining rights and worker protections that they deserve.  For too long, airport screeners have been denied fair collective-bargaining rights.  This bill rectifies this situation by granting Transportation Security Officers with the same collective bargaining rights and whistle-blower protections as most other employees of the Department of Homeland Security.  The bill also incorporates an amendment offered by Senator McCaskill that provides TSA with the authority to “take whatever actions may be necessary to carry out the agency mission” during an emergency.  This measure therefore provides Transportation Security Officers with equal rights while also effectively ensuring that these rights do not compromise our homeland security in any way.  In the course of the debate, Senate Democrats defeated Republican attempts to limit these rights and also to strike the provision in its entirety. (Amendment #316)  

Information Sharing and Intelligence Oversight.  The bill includes provisions to:

  • Promote intelligence and information-sharing.  The legislation will improve coordination between DHS and state, local and tribal governments through the creation of fusion centers, and also advances intelligence training initiatives and incentives for government-wide information sharing.
  • Declassify the total amount of the intelligence budget.  This provision would allow for improved Congressional oversight and public accountability regarding intelligence spending, and fulfills a key recommendation of the 9/11 Commission.
  • Consider 9/11 Commission recommendations on intelligence oversight.  The bill expresses the Sense of the Senate that the Senate should adopt the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission on congressional oversight of homeland security and intelligence.  A Memorandum of Agreement also was recently signed to improve the transparency, coordination, and effectiveness of the oversight activities of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Appropriations Committee and Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.
  • Assess the need for increased congressional oversight of intelligence.  An amendment offered by Senators Rockefeller and Bond expresses the Sense of the Senate that the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee complete a report by the end of the year to determine whether Congress needs to strengthen its oversight of intelligence. (Amendment #389)

Border Security. For too long, our nation’s borders have remained porous and vulnerable to terrorist threats.  This legislation includes provisions that will restrict terrorists’ ability to reach the United States.  The bill strengthens the security requirements of the Visa Waiver Program while also providing a roadmap and a set of requirements for key allies in the war on terrorism that want to join the program.  Additionally, it would increase the capacity of the Human Smuggling and Trafficking Center, and require DHS to establish a new Terrorist Travel Program.  

Balance between increased security and the protection of civil liberties.  Since the Privacy and Civil Liberties Board was established in March 2006, Congressional oversight and civil liberties groups have criticized its lack of aggressiveness, and noted its lack of authority.  This legislation would take significant steps to improve the effectiveness and oversight capacity of the Board through provisions that require Senate confirmation of all its members and authorize it to request that the Attorney General issue subpoenas on its behalf.