The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee is working with single minded vigor to strengthen the security of Americans here at home. Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Committee has originated a series of bipartisan legislative initiatives enacted by Congress and signed into law to organize and coordinate the federal government’s vast resources more effectively to prevent, prepare for, and, if necessary, respond to and recover from terrorist attacks or natural disasters, while also strengthening the capabilities of state and local governments, first responders, and the private sector.
In 2001, the Committee (then known as the Governmental Affairs Committee), along with Senator John McCain, successfully drafted and advocated for legislation to create the bipartisan 9/11 Commission to examine the events leading up to and surrounding the terrorist attacks and to make recommendations to help ensure that a disaster of that sort never happened again. That legislation passed Congress in November 2002.
In 2001 and 2002, the Committee led the effort to consolidate the 22 disparate agencies and bureaus responsible for disaster preparedness, prevention, and response into one Department of Homeland Security with the unified purpose of protecting the homeland. The Homeland Security Act passed Congress in September 2002.
The 9/11 Commission produced its best-selling report in July 2004, and the Committee promptly drafted legislation to implement its main recommendations. Congress passed the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention and Act of 2004 , which created a Director of National Intelligence to coordinate the work of 15 federal intelligence agencies and established a National Counter Terrorism Center to analyze intelligence information – “connecting the dots” so the government could take effective action to detect, prevent, and disrupt terrorist activity.
To ensure appropriate oversight from Congress, the Senate expanded the Committee’s jurisdiction in S. Res. 445 and changed the Committee’s name to the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
The new Department of Homeland Security was tested for the first time when Hurricane Katrina, the largest natural disaster in recent U.S. history, struck the Gulf Coast in August 2005. The inadequate response by all levels of government to this disaster underscored the need to better prepare for both natural disasters and terrorist attacks. After a Committee investigation that included 24 hearings, review of over 840,000 documents, and interviews of more than 320 people, the Committee released the only Congressional bipartisan report on Hurricane Katrina entitled, Hurricane Katrina: A Nation Still Unprepared. Based on the findings of this investigation, the Committee drafted and Congress enacted the Post Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006 , which strengthened the Department’s ability to protect the nation from “all hazards” – whether natural or man-made.
In 2006, the Committee also worked with others to draft the SAFE Port Act of 2006, which was signed into law in October. This legislation strengthened the security of the nation’s ports by, among other things, establishing a dedicated port security grant program. Congress also adopted chemical security legislation in October 2006 – building on the Committee’s work - to allow the Department of Homeland Security to begin regulating the nation’s highest risk chemical plants.
In 2007, Senators Lieberman and Collins led the Senate effort to enact additional recommendations from the 9/11 Commission report and to improve the Department of Homeland Security’s existing efforts to protect the nation’s security. The Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007 established a fair and stable formula for distributing homeland security grant programs, over 90 percent of which would be allocated based on risk. The Act also required screening of all cargo carried on passenger airplanes within three years; gave protection from lawsuits to vigilant citizens who in good faith report suspected terrorist activity targeting airplanes, trains, buses; created a dedicated interoperability grant program to improve emergency communications for state and local first responders; and authorized more than $4 billion over four years for rail, transit, and bus security grants.