(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash) invited the new Homeland Security Secretary, Michael Chertoff, to visit the HAMMER center in Richland, Washington. She also urged his Department to take full advantage of HAMMER's expertise in training first-responders.
Murray offered the invitation at a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Murray noted that HAMMER can provide critical training and cost savings for local emergency officials.
"I know that when you see their capabilities, you will agree that using HAMMER as a designated training center would be a benefit to both the first responder community throughout the Northwest – and DHS itself," Murray said. "This is a state-of-the-art, Department of Energy facility with expertise in threats posed by chemical, radiological, and biological agents, hazardous materials, and weapons of mass destruction."
Murray noted that first-responders in the Northwest now travel long distances to get training in other states, instead of getting training closer to home – and at less expense – at HAMMER.
"HAMMER specializes in hands-on training for first responders, but the Department [of Energy] has not designated this facility a regional training center. Instead, first responders from throughout the Northwest have to use their local budget or DHS funding to travel to facilities around the country for the training they could receive close to home," Murray said.
Murray urged Secretary Chertoff to use HAMMER as a resource for homeland security training. Murray noted that the Homeland Security Act of 2002 authorized Chertoff to "enter into joint sponsorship arrangements with the Secretary of Energy to use DOE sites to carry out the missions of the Department of Homeland Security."
Also at the hearing, Murray raised concerns about inadequate funding for other security efforts and discussed several Washington state security priorities.
Inadequate Funding from the Administration
Murray stressed that while both the White House and Congress share the goal of improved security, the White House has failed to request the adequate security funding, and the Department of Homeland Security has not allocated that funding to the most pressing threats.
"Mr. Secretary, I want to work with you to ensure our budget will actually deliver the security we both seek for our country. But if we are going to work together, we need to be honest about what resources are necessary to do your job and let the Congress worry about budget priorities," Murray said. "I’m quite concerned that good intentions are not going to help us establish a rigorous port and cargo security regime, protect our borders, or train our personnel correctly."
Murray raised her concerns that more than 200 new Border Patrol agents are being dispatched to the Southern Border.
"I obviously am concerned about the northern border I know all 200 of those plus [agents] are going to the Southern Border. We know that the Northern Border is a problem," Murray said.
Murray noted that America's ports have sought $1 billion in funding to improve security, but the Administration has not requested any funding for port security grants this year.
"From our discussions, I know port security is an important issue for you. You understand it's not only human life. It is economic disaster if we don't secure our ports, but it is disconcerting to me that the Administration does not ask for the dollars for these port security grants," Murray said.
Cargo Security – Need for Coordination
Murray also discussed the need to better coordinate disjointed cargo security programs.
Murray noted that, at her suggestion last year, the Senate Appropriations Committee directed DHS to produce a report on ways to coordinated cargo security efforts. The report, which was due to Congress on February 8th, has still not been produced.
"I've talked you about this, I've talked with [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] Commissioner Bonner. I've talked with a number of folks about it, and all we get is 'We're going to study this.' How can we help you come up with a coordinated approach to secure our ports, all the cargo that moves through them, and all the people in those areas?" Murray asked.
Previous Press Releases
1/11/05 - Murray Statement on Nomination of Chertoff
2/15/05 - Murray Votes to Confirm Chertoff