As we come upon the 10th anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001, we are all reminded of that tragic day and how it forever changed this great nation. We will never forget those that we lost that Tuesday morning, nor will we forget the heroism of the first responders, law enforcement personnel and ordinary citizens who responded to the call for help.
That day also inherently changed how our government functions — from how we secure civil liberties to how we respond and recover from disasters. Between 2004 and 2010 alone, the Department of Homeland Security spent nearly $300 billion to secure our nation. Through our combined efforts since 9/11, we have improved our security and eliminated many vulnerabilities we once faced.
We have increased the number of Border Patrol officers and strengthened our borders. We have created a Transportation Security Administration with the aim of securing all corners of our transportation infrastructure. We have revitalized FEMA after natural disasters have kept its shortcomings too often on our constant radar. We have changed how we share and disseminate intelligence and information to have a better snapshot of the world around us. We also created a Department of Homeland Security that combined over 22 federal agencies with the goal of improving our government’s effectiveness for every kind of preparation and response.
While all of these have been good and necessary, we cannot pretend that progress has been steady and unimpeded. Many problems we aimed to fix 10 years ago are still lingering, while new ones have arisen. The new Department of Homeland Security is relying too heavily on contractors to complete inherently government roles, which is, in turn, reversing the benefits we sought in creating it. Similarly, congressional homeland security jurisdiction is still fractured and has prevented our homeland security infrastructure from operating efficiently and effectively. Responsibility of DHS is blanketed over too many committees, while control should be more discrete.
Similarly, many Homeland Security initiatives programs are considered failures or sit in stasis, incomplete. While we created US-VISIT to monitor those entering the country, we don’t use it to monitor those leaving the country. Our Coast Guard’s Deepwater program, which aims to modernize the Coast Guard’s aging fleet and bring it into the 21st century has been languishing for quite some time, while the Secure Border Initiative (SBInet) to electronically monitor the border has been considered a failure altogether. Interoperability, which allows our emergency communications system to work together, has still not been fully accomplished even though lack of this was one the major contributing factors to communications breakdowns on 9/11.
While we continue our work in securing this nation we must also assure protecting our rights and freedoms. The 9/11 Commission understood this necessity and recommended a Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to monitor how our government is ensuring our civil liberties. Today, that board is still not functional and I cannot emphasize enough that we must complete this task.
Measuring the past 10 years since 9/11 shows our progress has been mixed — we have made many strides but still have far to go. As the Democratic leader of the Committee on Homeland Security for almost seven years, I will continue to work for the safety, security and resiliency of our great Nation against terrorism.
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(Photo: Bennie Thompson)