Eight years after 9/11, nation’s commitment shows signs of waning



On Sept. 11, 2001 the United States awoke to the grim reality of terrorism on our own soil.  Vulnerabilities became plain, the ruthlessness of our enemy became real, and the consequences of missed opportunities became truly painful. On that day and the days following, Americans rightly demanded immediate and steadfast attention toward defeating terrorism. 

In its aftermath, we, through great individual and national sacrifice, have endeavored to address those vulnerabilities primarily through the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and through our military battling the terrorists abroad. While these actions and many others have certainly improved our security, much work remains.  We would do well to honor the victims of 9/11 and the thousands of U.S. military men and women vigilantly pursuing the masterminds of this heinous act, through sustained diligence and commitment to the work of properly protecting our homeland.

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In fact, our resolve to follow through on this “remaining work” is perhaps the most salient lesson of 9/11: Effective security requires unwavering commitment. Regrettably, I fear the commitment demanded by our vast homeland security needs has shown signs of waning. While healthcare, bank solvency, and climate change are significant matters and revitalizing our economy is important, the security of our free and independent nation remains paramount and we should never lose sight of that.

SLOW DRIFT

One need only look at President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2010 budget priorities to see the slow drift towards an increasing domestic political agenda at the expense of budgets in security and defense. The highest priority for the federal government should be the security of our nation — especially at a time of sustained terrorist activity, mounting cybersecurity challenges, continued fighting in Afghanistan, and a ruthless drug war along our Southwest border.

Sadly, security seems to be buried somewhere underneath the administration’s costly pursuit of other initiatives. 

Proven security efforts like adding border agents, intelligence capabilities, and immigration enforcement, which had seen significant funding increases in each of the past six years, simply receive token inflationary adjustments in the president’s fiscal ’10 budget proposal, while DHS policy and administrative offices see monumental funding increases. In fact, President Obama’s five-year budget reveals an even more troubling trend. The only major Cabinet agency to project a steady decrease in funding over the next five years is DHS.  Furthermore, resources for defense are confined to nominal growth with the added strain of finding $60 billion in “savings” over the same five-year period. 

This slow drift isn’t simply a White House syndrome. Democratic leadership appears to be infected as well with the unnecessary delay of conference appointments and late final passage of the fiscal ’10 Homeland Security spending bill. While a number of cuts proposed by the administration were restored, the bill was finalized over three weeks after the fiscal year ended — an unnecessary delay for this bipartisan spending measure generally immune to beltway politics. In similar fashion, fiscal ’10 DoD funding remains unresolved. The plausible conclusion is that our nation’s defense is being squeezed against a domestic agenda and a 2010 election.
  

UNWAVERING SECURITY

9/11 united men and women of all races, religions, and creeds across our country toward fiercely protecting our way of life.  Since then, an improving federal screening workforce was set up at over 400 commercial airports across our country. Twenty-two disparate federal agencies were cobbled together to share information and maximize efforts. Over 655 miles of pedestrian and vehicle fencing has been deployed along our southwest border while we doubled the size of the Border Patrol and added thousands of additional Customs and Border Protection officers at our ports of entry. Security measures were enhanced by railroad companies, energy facilities and chemical plants. National Preparedness Goals were established to bring every community up to a basic response capability and our lines of communication at all levels of government have been improved.

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I firmly believe we’re more secure than we were before 9/11. Nevertheless, we would do well to refocus on this mission and resolutely continue the work. Both the Coast Guard and CBP are striving to replace aging operational assets; SBInet is just now reaching operational field testing; nuclear and biological detection systems are woefully behind; and our cybersecurity is adrift.

No one ever said effective security would be cheap or easy. In fact, security will take a long, sustained and unwavering commitment.  Eight years ago, we failed to take our threats seriously while allowing weaknesses (in this case, our transportation and identification system) to go uncorrected. Let us not forget those lessons too quickly and move security to the back burner.

Rogers has been a member of the House Appropriations Committee since 1983 and is currently the ranking member for the Subcommittee on Homeland Security. He has served on the subcommittee since its creation in 2003 and was its founding chairman from 2003 to 2006.