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(Washington, DC) - Today, the U.S. Senate began debating the President's proposal to create a federal Department of Homeland Security.

In a speech on the Senate floor, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash) raised several concerns about how the new department could impact the lives and safety of all Americans.

Senator Murray's remarks follow:

Mr. President, on June 6th, President Bush addressed the American public -- informing us that he had changed his mind. After months of rejecting just such a proposal, he now saw the benefit of organizing a Department of Homeland Security. His aides had handed him a plan. To his eyes, it was a good plan - one that should be implemented.

Something else happened that week -- as happens all too frequently in America. The Coast Guard -- one of the agencies that would be merged into the President's new Department of Homeland Security -- was performing search and rescue operations across the nation. In my home state of Washington, the Coast Guard was dispatching helicopters and motor boats throughout Willapa Bay to search for three missing Fort Lewis soldiers. On the evening of June 1st, their 20-foot pleasure craft washed ashore in Bay Center, Washington. Unfortunately, those soldiers bodies were recovered the next morning.

As I look at the President's request, I'm very mindful of the impact it could have on the Coast Guard's ability to carry out other missions like search and rescue. We need to be responsive to the President's request. We need to give this, and future Administrations, the tools they need to better secure America, but we can't sacrifice the critical safety work of the Coast Guard for the incomplete plan the President's aides drew up in the basement of the White House.

Mr. President, I rise today because I am deeply concerned that in our rush to do 'something' about homeland security we may overlook the consequences it will have on the safety and security of all Americans.

Frankly, given what I've seen so far, I have real reasons for concern. Of course, I believe -- like all my colleagues -- we need to do everything we can to make sure our government and our military can meet the challenges since September 11th. We have to focus considerable energy and resources on addressing those challenges. Those who want to harm us will look for new ways to exploit our weaknesses. We have to do better. The world has changed for us, and we must adapt. But we must balance the needs of our country.

In my role as the Chairman of the Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, I've worked to provide the resources to meet the needs at our borders, seaports, airports, and throughout our nation's transportation infrastructure. Often, that has meant pushing the Administration to support the necessary funding sometimes without success.

We are moving forward and making America more secure. The Senate has followed a deliberate process and the leadership of Senator Byrd has been critical to this endeavor. He's made sure that we move forward responsibly to meet the new challenges facing our nation.

But let's face it, it takes a while to get even the simple things right. I've been working with the Transportation Security Administration now for months on airline security and even the smallest things have taken a while to work out.

Just look at what we faced at the Northern Border. It took many months -- and we had to put a lot of pressure on this Administration -- just to get the National Guard deployed at the Northern Border to fill the gaping holes in our border security left by years of neglect. It then took many more weeks to get our Guardsmen armed.

Securing our border is essential, but so is ensuring the efficient flow of people, goods and services across our border with our friends in Canada. Canada is our nation's largest trading partner. Many millions of people in both countries depend on that trade for their livelihoods. If we do the wrong thing, the loss of jobs in our border communities will be devastating.

How will the Department of Homeland Security envisioned by the President balance the complexity of these competing needs of the American people? We don't know. We're just supposed to trust the Administration.

Now the Administration wants to rush through a homeland security bill which was drawn up by a handful of White House aides. It's the largest government reorganization since 1947.

Look at what's happened in the House since the President submitted his proposal. The standing committees looked at the proposal and saw major problems. For example, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee unanimously voted to keep the Coast Guard out of the new Department. Based on their expertise and research, the Standing Committee saw the clear need to maintain the Coast Guard outside of the new Department. What happened? The Select Committee ignored that recommendation and put a rubber stamp on the President's original proposal.

In fact, several times, the standing committees made constructive improvements to bill -- only to see their recommendations rejected by the Select Committee. The Administration wants to rush its proposal through Congress. Anyone who raises legitimate questions is derided as "trying to preserve turf." This isn't about turf. It's about safety. It's about young Coast Guardsmen who climb aboard foreign vessels in the open seas -- not knowing what they will find. It's about TSA security agents who are trying to make sure that passengers attempting to board our planes don't pose a security threat. I am proud to work to try and provide them with some job security - just as they work hard to protect our nation's security.

There are real questions that need to answered. I'm here on the floor this afternoon to raise some of those questions -- because there is a lot at stake for the people I represent -- and for every American. I want to make sure we do this right, and so far I haven't gotten the answers I need.

Mr. President, I have two major concerns.

Need to Balance New and Traditional Missions

First, we haven't yet figured out how to our fulfill traditional missions -- and the new security missions -- at the same time. If we combine all these various agencies into one massive department -- whose primary mission is homeland security -- how will we meet the traditional needs across the board?

Look at what's happened in just one agency -- the Coast Guard. Since September 11th, the Coast Guard has shifted resources away from traditional missions to homeland defense. That's an appropriate response, but it comes at a cost.

Unfortunately, it means the Coast Guard is spending less time: interdicting drugs and illegal migrants, enforcing fishery and marine safety laws, and protecting our marine environment.

But the traditional missions haven't disappeared.

We still need the Coast Guard to keep drugs and illegal migrants off our shores, to protect our environment, and to protect the lives of our fisherman and the integrity of our fishing grounds.

Frankly, even without the new security needs, we've got a long way to go to meet even the basic missions.

I'm concerned that we're rushing into a new organization that could compromise our ability to meet all the challenges we're facing. What will be the commitment from the Department of Homeland Security to protecting our marine environment or enforcing fisheries laws or conducting search and rescue operations?

And if the Administration continues to play budget games and underfunds the Department -- as it has done so far with TSA -- won't those scarce dollars go only to security and not to traditional missions?

Right now, we can't even get the basic facts.

I'd like to know just how much of the current Coast Guard budget is going toward Homeland Security. On July 9th, the Coast Guard Commandant said nearly 40 percent of the Coast Guard's operating budget goes to the missions of the new department. A few weeks later, on July 30th, the Commandant said that almost 50 percent of the coast guard's budget went to homeland security. That's a difference of at least $350 million.

That number matters because the boats and resources used for homeland defense are often the same ones needed for Search and Rescue and other missions. I'm not raising this to criticize Admiral Collins -- he's doing an excellent job, and I work with him closely -- but it does show how difficult it is to get even the most basic questions answered as we look at this new department.

The answers matter because the vast majority of Americans live in coastal states, or along the Great Lakes or inland waterways. And every American is impacted when the Coast Guard slows down its work stopping illegal drugs. Including the Coast Guard in the new department will impact the lives of millions of people. I think we need to explore these questions closely. Simply put, we haven't done a good job meeting our traditional missions and security missions at the same time. I'd like to know how one massive department -- focused primarily on security -- will help us meet all the needs out there.

Must Keep the Agencies Accountable to Congress & the Public

Second Mr. President, I'm very concerned about accountability and authority over everything from the staff of the new department to its budget.

The Administration has asked for unprecedented power and control over this proposed department. Some of the demands for power over workers really trouble me. The President wants changes in the personnel rules so he can have "flexibility."

Is the President suggesting that today's unionized border guards aren't doing an adequate job? Or that today's unionized customs officials aren't responding to new mission requirements in a timely manner? If that's what he's suggesting, then he is wrong. I've been on the border. I've met with our border patrol and customs agents. These professionals are our sons and daughters, our neighbors and friends, our husbands and wives. They serve the American people selflessly, often jeopardizing their own health and safety. I don't think that those who serve in the Department of Homeland Security should be second class citizens -- given a lower level of rights and respect.

In addition to dramatic new control over workers, the Administration wants the power to move money around without Congressional input. Let me tell you, given what I've seen so far, this is scary news for families in Washington state. Right now, I can fight to make sure that the needs in my state are being met. As elected Members of Congress, we know the needs in our communities, and we're accountable to the voters. But the Administration wants accountants in the Office of Management and Budget to decide what's important to the people of Washington State. If that happens, my constituents will lose out -- at a cost to their safety and security.

Just look at what happened in the Supplemental Appropriations Bill. Under the leadership of Senator Byrd, the Appropriations Committee held unprecedented and comprehensive hearings on how to best meet our obligations to the American people. We spent countless hours hearing from national and local experts. We passed funding to meet the needs before us.

Congress passed that funding, but then the President eliminated more than $5 billion of it. With a wave of his hand over the August break, the President eliminated funding that we in Congress consider critical to protecting the American public.

  • The President eliminated $11 million from Coast Guard operations,
  • The President eliminated $262 million for critical Coast Guard procurement including funding for coastal patrol boats,
  • The President eliminated $150 million for our nation's airports -- as they work to meet the December deadline for installing explosive detection devices,
  • And the President eliminated $480 million from an already shortchanged Transportation Security Administration.
The Office of Management and Budget has not been a good advocate for the people of Washington state. Given its record, I'm reluctant to give OMB dramatic new power over the safety and security of my constituents.

For example, the OMB originally blocked the Coast Guard from making desperately-needed improvements to the Marine 911 system. When we brought it to their attention, the OMB changed its policy. But under the President's plan, there is no way for us in Congress to address the arbitrary decisions made by the OMB. Granting the President dramatic new authority isn't just a bureaucratic exercise. It has real consequences for the people I represent, and I take that responsibility very seriously.

If we're not going to figure out how all the functions are going to be performed, and we can't tie money to functions -- this reorganization may consign many functions to death -- as we saw when the President eliminated $5.1 billion in homeland security funding.

So in closing, Mr. President, we need to better define the missions of the various agencies, and we need to make sure they continue to fulfill their traditional missions. It's essential for our economic security and our physical safety.

The House bill does not strike a balance, and we must do better. We need to really understand the consequences of this proposal and ensure that it will actually increase our homeland security and not jeopardize our citizens in other ways. This hasn't been thought out enough, and we should certainly not race to put a rubber stamp on such an incomplete proposal.

I think every senator feels pressure to do something -- anything -- about homeland security. But it's more important to do the right thing. So I look forward to having a good debate about the new Department of Homeland Security. There are a lot of serious questions, and I look forward to hearing some answers.