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Your Voice | Legislative Update

 

August 23, 2007

9/11 panelists prepare a follow-up

 

#11#Former 9/11 Commission Chair Tom Kean and vice-chair Lee Hamilton will produce a report on the progress of their recommendations to coincide with the sixth anniversary of 9/11. Kean and Hamilton have been working with former aides to assess the government’s actions since the final report of the 9/11 Public Discourse Project in December, 2005. "These continued efforts would ensure that Congress and the administration remain focused on full implementation of what I feel are vital reforms," VOICES founding director Mary Fetchet is quoted in Baltimore Sun coverage. Last month, the “Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act,” which legislated many of the recommendations that remained unaddressed, including screening for air and sea cargo, distribution of homeland security antiterrorism grants based more on risk, and billions of dollars for interoperable communications and transit security.  

 

August 9, 2007

CIA To Release 9/11 Report

 

#10#A provision of the recently passed 9/11 bill will force the CIA to release a long secret internal accounting of its performance prior to the terrorist attacks. The agency has 30 days to release a declassified version to the public, and will send Congress a classified annex that explains the report’s redactions, according to the law signed by President Bush last week. Until now, the CIA had refused to disclose any part of the report since its former inspector general (IG), John Helgerson, completed the final draft more than two years ago. Helgerson's report is more critical of the agency than the 9/11 Commission’s 2004 report. It is believed to single out high level officials for contributing to internal failings including CIA Director George Tenet, former Deputy Director of Operations James Pavitt, and former CIA Counterterrorism Center Chief Cofer Black. All have since left the agency.  

 

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) (above), has pushed for years for the release of the report. “No one has come even close to giving a good national security argument as to why the public should be denied access to this information,” he is quoted in The Hill.com coverage. “All I can say is that it’s an extraordinarily important, independent assessment, written with a specific purpose to learn how we can improve our security.” In the past, Tenet has criticized the report as "terribly flawed."  

 

July 30, 2007

9/11 Bill Sent to President Bush

 

President Bush is expected to sign the conference report of the 9/11 reforms legislation into law before the Congressional session ends this Friday. The White House has protested some provisions in the bill, particularly a requirement that within the next five years all container ships would be scanned for nuclear devices before they leave a foreign port. The administration says such a scanning system is "neither executable, nor feasible," but has stopped short of threatening a veto. "We are hopeful that the president will sign the legislation and implement the reforms. It takes the first piece of legislation to another level. It is a much more thorough and detailed," VOICES Founding Director Mary Fetchet is quoted in Connecticut Post coverage. Read more in VOICES Legislative Update section.  

 

July 27, 2007

Senate Passes 9/11 Bill; House Expected to Follow

 

The Senate approved the conference report of the 9/11 Bill Thursday evening by a vote of 85 to 8. Passage in the House and submission to President Bush is expected Friday. “I believe this bill will greatly enhance the security of the American people, protecting them from natural disaster and also, God forbid, from terrorist attack,” said Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut who was one of the chief authors of the bill, as quoted in New York Times coverage.  

 

The bill addresses major recommendations of the 9/11 Commission in the following provisions:  

 

-- New requirements in place for screening air and sea cargo. In a compromise with Republicans and the administration, Democrats agreed to extend the deadline for inspecting all seaport cargo if ports are unable to comply. The 9/11 Commission did not recommend 100% screening, as passed in the bill. Critics including the Bush Administration have said that the requirement could hurt commerce, but the President is likely to sign the bill.  

 

--Distribution of homeland security antiterrorism grants that put more emphasis on the risk facing a community.  

 

--A $3.3 billion program for interoperable communications between emergency agencies in an attack or catastrophe.  

 

--More than $4 billion over four years for rail, transit, and bus security grants.  

 

--Stronger security measures for Visa Waiver Program, which allows travelers from select countries to visit the U.S. without a visa, through creation of a new Electronic Travel Authorization system and improved reporting of lost and stolen passports.  

 

--Public disclosure of the total amount appropriated for the intelligence community. After the next two fiscal years the President may waive the disclosure requirement only if it would harm national security.  

#9#Also, at the insistence of Republicans, an amendment was added that provides immunity from lawsuits for people who in good faith report what they believe is terrorist activity in and around airplanes, trains, and buses. The issue grew out of an incident last fall when six Muslim scholars were removed from a Minneapolis flight after other passengers said they were acting strangely. The scholars have filed suit, saying their civil rights were violated.  

 

Thomas H. Kean (left), chairman of the 9/11 Commission and former GOP governor of New Jersey, said in an interview that the new bill "doesn't mean everything is done, but it is a very big step forward. It will make our nation safer." However, Kean added that Congress still has to consolidate its own homeland security functions by reducing the number of committees with a hand in security issues. "Congress hasn't done anything about itself," Kean said, as quoted in Associated Press coverage.  

 

July 24, 2007

9/11 Bill "In Good Shape" Despite Disputes

 

The 9/11 reforms legislation continues to move through conference under intense debate. News reports cite predictions from Congressional staffers that the bill will be finalized this week and sent to President Bush. Points of contention remain, including which federal agency will manage grants for transportation security, how to help local governments buy interoperable communications equipment, and whether a provision will be included that gives people immunity if they are sued for reporting on suspicious activity around transportation networks. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., said the need to pass the measure has gained "even greater urgency in recent weeks, given terrorist activity in the United Kingdom, the national intelligence estimate on [al-Qaida's] continuing intentions to strike the U.S., and warnings from Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff that the U.S. remains vulnerable, especially during these summer months," as quoted in CongressDaily coverage.  

 

House and Senate conferees have agreed in principle to let the Bush administration decide which federal agency should be in charge of managing and disbursing transportation security grants, aides said. The administration has already stated its preference to have the Homeland Security Department handle the job, rather than the Transportation Department. And, House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said last week he wanted to alter the wording of the lawsuit immunity provision to ensure it does not lead to racial profiling or the targeting of innocent people. Regardless, aides were optimistic that work on the 9/11 bill would be wrapped up this week. "It looks like it's in good shape," one aide is quoted in CongressDaily coverage.  

 

July 15, 2007

Collins and Lieberman Urge Quick Action on 9/11 Bill

 

#8#Senators Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Susan Collins (R-ME), the Chair and Ranking Member, respecively, of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, published an Op-Ed article in the Boston Globe this weekend entitled: "A Reminder of Our Vulnerability."  

 

The Op-Ed states: "The 9/11 bill offers a number of fixes which will deter terrorists from crossing our borders, assist first responders in preventing attacks, help them operate more effectively if an attack does occur, and improve security on all forms of transportation. We must not let this opportunity to protect our country pass us by." Click to read the full Op-Ed.  

 

July 10, 2007

Senate Appoints 9/11 Bill Conferees

 

#7#Implementation of the 9/11 Commission recommendations took a step forward yesterday with the appointment of conferees for S.4 (Improving America's Security Act). Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced the move after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) dropped a provision in the bill that would allow Transportation Security Administration employees to bargain collectively. Republicans, including President Bush, opposed that provision because they claim it could tie TSA's hands in an emergency. Congressional sources confirmed the Senate conferees for S.4 are: Democrats: Senators Lieberman (CT), Levin (MI), Akaka (HI), Carper (DE), Pryor (AR), Dodd (CT), Inouye (HI), and Biden (DE). Republicans: Senators Collins (ME), Voinovich (OH), Coleman (MN), Coburn (OK), Shelby (AL), Stevens (AK) and Lugar (IN). Senators Lieberman and Collins, the chair and ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee are shown at left. The 9/11 bill now heads for conference with the House conferees, to be appointed on Wednesday. Optimistic predictions would have the bill on President Bush's desk before the August recess.  

 

Republicans painted the Democratic concession on TSA collective bargaining as a victory of security over special interests, noting that the provision was not included in the 9/11 Commission's recommendations. "Republicans were able to ensure our national security is a higher priority than a special-interest provision for Big Labor and succeeded in removing a dangerous provision from this bill," McConnell said, as quoted in Associated Press coverage. The language was removed in an effort to keep the bill moving, though some Democrats have argued that collective bargaining would in fact increase security by improving morale at the TSA. Some in the media have suggested that the Democratic Congress is eager for a legislative victory after setbacks on Iraq funding and Stem Cell legislation. The President has announced a veto threat over certain language in the bill that would declassify the top-line intelligence budget and institute more stringent Congressional oversight of intelligence. Both measures were recommended by the 9/11 Commission. Read more in VOICES Intelligence Oversight Reform page.  

 

July 7, 2007

Pass 9/11 Reforms, Former 9/11 Commissioner Roemer Tells Congress

 

#6#9/11 Commissioner Tim Roemer called for Congress to pass stalled 9/11 reforms legislation and send it to the President. The failed attacks in the United Kingdom last week show terrorists are "gaining strength, and our policies are not keeping pace," said Roemer in the Democratic Party's weekly radio address on Saturday. Roemer was a Democratic Congressman from Indiana before serving on the bipartisan 9/11 Commission.  

 

Roemer said: "Six years ago this September, the terrorists aboard Flight 93 were headed towards Washington, DC. They intended to crash that plane into the U.S. Capitol. It was ordinary Americans aboard that flight who rose up and protected Congress from a terrorist attack. It's time Congress returned the favor." Click to read or listen to the full radio address.  

 

July 6, 2007

Rahm Echoes Pelosi Pressure on 9/11 Bill

 

From CBS/Politico.com  

 

#5#Democrats are clearly pushing for a much-needed legislative win before members leave town next month for an extended summer recess.  

 

Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel of Illinois issued the following statement Monday morning:  

 

"Nearly six years after the Sept. 11 attacks, one month after the terrorist plot at JFK airport, and days after an attack in Glasgow, it is time for Congress to make the 9/11 Commission's recommendations the law of the land. Recent events in New York, London and Glasgow should remind Congress of the work we must do to protect our nation and keep our country safe from terrorists. Sending this legislation to the president's desk should be Congress' first order of business."  

 

July 3, 2007

Objections Stall Appointment of 9/11 Bill Conferees

 

#1#The 9/11 Commission Legislation (H.R. 1 in the House and S.4 in the Senate) remains stalled. A conference committee has not yet been appointed to merge the legislation into a consensus bill for the President’s review. Since Congress is on recess, the committee could be appointed next week at the earliest. A number of different issues have impeded the bills progress. And passing the legislation into law will require all involved—Congressional Democrats, Congressional Republicans and the President—to make some concessions.  

 

Congressional Democrats: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) indicated Friday that they were willing to remove a section of the legislation that would grant Transportation Security Administration workers the right to bargain collectively through unions. The House has also agreed to drop the provision. According to an aide to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY): "If the majority wants to say on the record that that provision [TSA collective bargaining] will be eliminated, then that puts us in a much different position," as quoted in National Journal coverage. Sens. McConnell (left) and Reid (right) are shown in the picture above.  

 

Congressional Republicans: So far, the Republican side has resisted appointing House-Senate conferees, to the consternation of Democrats. Sen. Tom Coburn has put a hold on the bill, insisting that language mandating financial and programmatic audits of Homeland Security grants be inserted. Democrats are negotiating with Sen. Coburn behind the scenes while keeping up the public pressure. “They keep coming up with diversionary, dilatory, unreasonable demands,” Sen. Reid is quoted in a TheHill.com article. Last week, Reid threatened to suspend the August recess if the disputes on the 9/11 bill and other legislation are not resolved. Republicans counter that the proposal is part of a necessary effort to institute spending and earmark reforms. The Republican Senatorial leadership also has unspecified objections to the bill, and it is unclear whether the conference process will go forward even if Sen. Coburn lifts his hold.  

 

The President: The White House has outlined a number of objections to the legislation—including some provisions that would directly address 9/11 Commission Recommendations. But until a final conference bill is negotiated, it will be hard to know whether the President can swallow his objections or whether provisions like declassifying the top-line intelligence budget and more stringent Congressional oversight of intelligence are deal breakers that would prompt a veto.  

 

May 4, 2007

Family Members Push For Speedy Passage of 9/11 Reforms

 

A group of 9/11 family members traveled to Washington this week to urge Congressional action on the 9/11 reforms legislation in the House (H.R. 1) and Senate (S.4). Both houses have passed their respective bills but the conference process--where members of both houses negotiate a consensus bill to send to the President--has yet to begin in earnest. The 9/11 family members, including Mary Fetchet and Carol Ashley of VOICES and Beverly Eckert and Carie Lemack of Families of September 11th, appeared at a press conference Wednesday with 9/11 Commissioners Tim Roemer and John Lehman. The two continue their dilligent work to ensure that the recommendations of their Commission are written into law and properly implemented.  

 

An informative article in The Connecticut Post covers the press conference and lays out some of the roadblocks the legislation has faced, including differences between the House and Senate on what percentage of homeland security funds should go to each state. “The Senate has to work with the House to realize that money needs to go to the cities that are most vulnerable,” Mary Fetchet is quoted in the Connecticut Post.  

 

Commissioner Roemer commented on a possible timeline for a conferenced bill by the end of May. Roemer told National Journal: "We have goals in mind right now. This 30 days is a goal. But we've not insisted on any deadline because we want the process to work and work well. If this meanders into the summertime, I think you'll see some growing impatience." President Bush has expressed opposition to some provisions likely to be in the final bill, including allowing Transportation Security Administration workers to unionize. A veto is possible.  

 

April 27, 2007

Little Urgency on 9/11 Reforms Bill

 

9/11 family members traveled to Washington this week to press both the House and Senate to continue moving forward on 9/11-reforms legislation. The House and Senate have both passed versions of the bill that are currently stalled. Differences between the two bills must be reconciled before a conferenced bill is sent to President Bush, and the conference process is only in its nascent stages. However, the family members were given assurances that this vital legislation remains a priority of the new Congress. The legislation was passed as part of the initial blitz of lawmaking in January and February, but has lost steam since then as Democrats face divisive debate on war spending and other issues. It could face another challenge at the President’s desk: Bush has vowed to veto any legislation that would allow Transportation Security Administration workers to unionize, a provision contained in both the House (H.R. 1) and Senate (S.4) bills.  

 

#4#House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-MS told CongressDaily that completing the supplemental spending bill has overshadowed work on the security bill. "I'm patient as long as we get it done," Thompson (shown at left) is quoted. "I know that the president is dangling vetoes over our head right and left." The main point of contention between the House and Senate versions of the legislation is what percentage of Homeland Security appropriations should be allocated strictly according to risk, and what percentage should be divided among all 50 states. "The homeland security grants, of course, will be contentious," one Senate aide told CongressDaily. "Both bills provide the vast majority of homeland security funding on the basis of risk, but the bills differ in the minimum amount of money guaranteed to each state so they can all achieve a basic level of preparedness."  

 

March 16, 2007

Senate Passes 9/11 Reforms With Support of 9/11 Family Groups

 

At the urging of 9/11 advocacy organizations including VOICES, the Senate passed a bill Tuesday that will implement many of the remaining recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. The bill, called S.4 or “Improving America's Security by Implementing Unfinished Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007,” passed with a 60-38 majority, with ten Republicans joining all Democrats and Independent Senators Joseph Lieberman (CT) and Bernard Sanders (VT). Click here to see record of the roll call vote on S.4.  

 

#3#Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) thanked the 9/11 families for their efforts in a speech on the Senate floor Tuesday: “I want to thank…the 9/11 families, but especially Carol Ashley, Beverly Eckert, Mary Fetchet, and Carie Lemack, members of the Families of September 11th and Voices of September 11th. Their input in this legislation has been essential…[I also want to underscore the importance of] the families and the two letters they wrote during this debate. Their letters served as a reminder of what this legislation is about – protecting America against terrorism. Our country will be safer, stronger, and more secure as a result of their efforts.”  

 

VOICES joined the other family groups in releasing an open letter to the Senate praising the bill’s passage. However, the letter also noted that S.4 must still be conferenced with a 9/11 Reforms Bill passed by the House (known as H.R. 1). Click here to see a side-by side comparison of S.4 and H.R.1 produced by Congressional Quarterly. Then, the House-Senate "reconciled" legislation will require the signature of President Bush to become law. President Bush has already threatened to veto the bill because of controversial provisions that would allow Transportation Security Administration workers to unionize and collectively bargain. The 9/11 family advocates wrote: "As the House and Senate bills converge in conference and head toward the President's desk, we will direct our efforts toward ensuring the final legislation adheres to the recommendations outlined in the 9/11 Commission's landmark report. We will continue to work with Republicans, Democrats and members of the 9/11 Commission toward this goal." Click to read the open letter.  

 

An informative Associated Press article compares the House and Senate bills with statements of Bush administration policy on issues including: cargo screening on passenger planes, reforms to the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, Homeland Security grant funding, and others. VOICES e-Newsletter will continue to keep you informed as this vital legislation winds its way through the legislative process.  

 

March 9, 2007

Amendments to Senate 9/11 Bill Results in "Political Gridlock"

 

A series of procedural moves and political infighting has led to further delays on the Senate bill implementing the unfulfilled 9/11 Commission recommendations (S.4). Senators were unable to agree to consider the amendments as one package, which would allow the bill to move to a final vote. This is largely the result of the proposal of unrelated amendments to the legislation. In a letter to Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), VOICES Founding Director Mary Fetchet and Family Advisory member Carol Ashley joined other 9/11 familes in calling for the removal of “highly provocative, irrelevant amendments.” (Read Full Text) Although a final vote is possible on Friday, it will likely not occur until early next week. The threat of a veto still remains, however, over the inclusion of collective bargaining rights for Transportation Security Administration (TSA) workers.  

 

March 2, 2007

Senate Drops Iraq from Debate on 9/11 Reforms Legislation

 

The advocacy work of 9/11 families made a difference again this week when Senate leaders agreed to keep debate on the Iraq war out of their bill to implement remaining 9/11 Commission recommendations. In an open letter to the Senate, a group of family members wrote: "This legislation [known as the Improving America's Security Act or S.4] is too important to be politicized by the introduction of non-germane, controversial amendments ... particularly those related to Iraq," the letter said, as quoted in coverage. Click to read the full letter. The 9/11 family advocates attracted a fair amount of media attention, and several VOICES members, including Founding Director Mary Fetchet and Advisory Board Member Carol Ashley, were credited, in part, with the success of this effort. The Associated Press wrote: "Spurred by the families of Sept. 11 victims, Senate leaders tentatively agreed Tuesday to take up a measure that would tighten the nation's security and delay a contentious debate on Iraq until next month."  

 

Debate over the legislation is still divisive, with Republican senators joining the White House in a threat to veto the legislation should it contain authorization for collective bargaining rights for Transportation Security Administration workers. Click here to read a statement of Bush Administration policy largely critical of S.4. VOICES remains firm in its position regarding the importance of this legislation in ensuring our safety. If progress is to be made, the security of the American people must transcend the hurdles of political infighting. Floor debate on S.4 will continue at least until early next week and is televised on C-SPAN 2. VOICES will continue to provide updates on this important subject, including how you can continue to make a positive difference. Click to visit information on S.4 from THOMAS.  

 

February 23, 2007

Action Alert on 9/11 Legislation

 

Next week the Senate is going to introduce its version of a bill to implement the remaining 9/11 Commission recommendations. Its purpose is to improve our security. There is a strong possibility that controversial amendments on the Iraq war will be added which could jeopardize passage of this important legislation. The Iraq War should be a separate debate either before or after the 9/11 Commission recommendations bill comes to the floor.  

 

Your help is needed to emphasize to Senate leadership that it is important to keep the Iraq war and the 9/11 Commission recommendations bill as separate issues. Please call, e-mail or fax both Senator Harry Reid, the Majority Leader, and Senator Mitch McConnell, the Minority Leader and make it clear to them that that the Senate bill on implementation of the 9/11 Commission recommendations is critically important to America's security and that debate and resolutions about Iraq should be separate from this bill. Click here to find contact information for your Senators.  

 

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid  

Phone: 202-224-3542  

Fax: 202-224-7327  

E-mail online  

 

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell  

Phone: (202) 224-2541  

Fax: (202) 224-2499  

E-mail online  

 

Read more in the Washington Post  

 

February 16, 2007

Senate Offers Its Own 9/11 Reform Bills In Response to H.R. 1

 

The Senate offered its own take on the remaining 9/11 Commission recommendations late last week, setting up conflict with the House on cargo safety, privacy and civil liberties, grant funding and other important issues. Three Senate bills are currently on the table, (S.4) an omnibus 9/11 reforms bill and two transportation security bills introduced in the Commerce Committee. Here is a brief run-down on some of the major differences between the House and Senate bills.  

 

Cargo Safety:  

 

House (H.R. 1): 100% screening for explosives on cargo loaded in passenger airplanes by 2010. 100% radiation screening for cargo containers loaded at foreign shipping ports.  

 

Senate (Commerce Committee): "High risk" cargo on passenger planes to be screened by 2010. Continuation of a pilot program that conducts test programs at three foreign ports to scan all cargo containers. If the tests prove viable, cargo scanning can be extended to other ports.  

 

Key quote: "Securing our nation against the terrorist threat is the challenge of our age -- and it will be an ongoing challenge," Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-Ind. CT) in CongressDaily.  

 

Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board:  

 

House (H.R. 1): Make the board an independent agency inside the Executive Branch (it is currently part of the White House executive office) and give it full subpoena power.  

 

Senate (S.4) Keep the board within the White House executive office and allow it to ask the attorney general to issue subpoenas. Congress would have to be notified if a subpoena request was denied or modified.  

 

Key Quote: "The civil liberties board has got to alert us on the questions involving our civil liberties. What hasn't been done yet is to make sure that it's in the executive branch as a totally independent agency," 9/11 Commission Chair Thomas Kean in the Washington Post.  

 

Funding Formulas:  

 

House (H.R. 1): Cut minimum grant for each state in "state homeland security grants" and "law enforcement terrorism prevention grants" significantly to 0.25 percent of the total. The House version places more emphasis on rating the risk factor - a formula that considers the intelligence threat, the locality's vulnerability and the consequences to its population and critical infrastructure of a terrorist attack. Such a formula tends to favor larger and more urban states, which have more Representatives in the House.  

 

Senate (S.4): Calls for a per-state minimum of 0.45% of the total "state homeland security grants" and "law enforcement terrorism prevention grants" granted nationally. Also calls for a dramatic increase in the amount of funding authorized under the "emergency management performance grant" program, from $200 million this year to $913 million with a requirement that each state be given 0.75 percent of funding under the program. The Senate's grants would cost $3.105 billion for each of the next three years, according to Associated Press coverage. Though their formula is largely risk-based, the Senate is doing exactly what it's supposed to do: look out for the interests of small states.  

 

Key quote: "Help us out. Give us congressional guidance [on funding]," DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff at a Senate hearing, quoted in CongressDaily.  

 

February 9, 2007

Issue Spotlight: Screening Cargo in Passenger Airplanes

 

H.R. 1, the major 9/11 Reforms legislation passed last month in the House, calls for 100% screening of cargo loaded on passenger airplanes by 2010. The legislation is a serious response to a serious security loophole. VOICES has worked for years in cooperation with a bipartisan group of Congressional leaders to close the loophole. As Mary Fetchet described the situation in May, 2005 CNN article: "By double-locking the front door and leaving the back wide open, the DHS has neglected its responsibility to provide the highest standard of security available to the American people." The cargo provisions in H.R. 1, long urged by Reps. Ed Markey (D-MA), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), and Christopher Shays (R-CT), would close and lock that door emphatically if implemented. Mary Fetchet is shown in the picture above with Reps. Markey and Maloney at a press conference touting the passage of H.R. 1. They are holding a cartoon showing a man stripped to his underwear being searched by an airport employee while unscreened cargo passes through without inspection... Click to read more.  

 

Click here to visit VOICES for Change's updated Airline Travel security page.  

 

February 2, 2007

Congressional Leaders Push for Interoperable Communications

 

It is widely recognized that rescue efforts on 9/11 were greatly hampered by the inability of emergency workers to effectively communicate with each other. Deficiencies in wireless communications capabilities have long been known, but until recently, little has been done to address these concerns. Fortunately, the current Congress has made this issue a top priority. The recently passed House act, "Implementing the 9/11 Commission Recommendations" (H.R. 1), contains language to enforce the scheduled handover of an important band of spectrum for emergency first responder communications through the creation of an office within the Department of Homeland Security. Please click here to read a recently released report containing more information on this vitally important issue. At the forefront of this effort is Senator John McCain, who, on Wednesday, announced a plan to expand the scheduled broadband spectrum reallocation. Please click here to read the press release from Senator McCain's office. While the details of this issue are highly technical, we will continue to keep you informed, as these developments are critical in providing our emergency workers with the tools they need and deserve.  

 

July 19, 2007

House Creates Select Intelligence Oversight Panel

 

On January 9, 2007, The House voted largely along party lines, 239-188, to pass a resolution, sponsored by Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., that establishes an integrated intelligence oversight panel consisting of members from other committees. The provision, named H. Res 35 (read text of resolution) responds to a recommendation by the 9/11 Commission urging a change in intelligence and counter-terrorism oversight. The new panel would include members from both the Intelligence Committee, which authorizes and oversees intelligence programs, and the Appropriations Committee, which holds the purse strings. Learn more about Intelligence Oversight reform in our Voices for Change page.  

 

"This is a major reform, and a significant and important step forward in improving oversight," 9/11 Commissioner Tim Roemer is quoted in Baltimore Sun coverage. Roemer added that marrying the spending and policy responsibilities would make it harder for intelligence agencies to "game the system" by playing one committee off the other, as they do now. The Commissioners have advocated for a single joint House-Senate Intelligence Committee. But taking that step would require Senate approval, and the Senate has so far resisted overhauling its own intelligence oversight structure. Because it is an internal House Resolution, H. Res. 35 does not require action from the Senate or the signature of President Bush. The resolution fulfills the Commissioners’ recommendation for a “a single committee in each house of Congress, combining authorizing and appropriating authorities” as an alternative to the joint committee.  

 

January 12, 2007

Mary Fetchet and Other 9/11 Family Members Testify Before Senate

 

#2#VOICES Founding Director Mary Fetchet joined other 9/11 family members this week to testify at a U.S. Senate committee hearing on the status of the 9/11 Commission recommendations. The hearing, held Tuesday morning by the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee (HSGAC) and its chairman Sen. Joe Lieberman (I(D)-CT), was meant to refocus Congress’ attention on the 9/11 Commission Recommendations that have yet to be addressed. Ms. Fetchet’s testimony urged quick Congressional action on a variety of unfulfilled recommendations including interoperable communications, information sharing, risk-based funding, and Congressional reform. VOICES family advisory board member Carol Ashley and 9/11 family member Carie Lemack also added testimony on the recommendations. The three were joined by other family members Frank Fetchet, Abe Scott and Rosemary Dillard at a press conference in support of new action on the Recommendations. In the picture above, Mary Fetchet addresses the press as Rev. Bill Minson, Frank Fetchet and Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) look on.  

 

All three advocates played a leading role in creating the 9/11 Commission, and were lauded by Sen. Lieberman as “the heroes of this fight… each one lost a loved one on September 11 th and took that terrible loss and grief and turned it into advocacy for prevention and protection.” They brought the human face of terrorist attacks to the hearing and reminded the Senators that their decisions on reform have real world consequences. Ms. Fetchet said in her testimony: “I believe we must remain vigilant and steadfast in our commitment to ensure the government is doing everything within its power to make our country safer. Voices of September 11th welcomes the opportunity to work with your committee and other like-minded individuals, who feel as I do that no mother, father, wife, child or sibling should suffer the loss we have.”  

 

The hearing also featured 9/11 Commissioners Lee Hamilton, Slade Gorton and Tim Roemer, as well as first responders and Mayor Mike Bloomberg of New York. The hearing was televised on CSPAN, and streaming video as well as transcripts of testimony are available on the Senate HSGAC website. If you are viewing the streaming video and would like to skip directly to the beginning of the 9/11 family members’ testimony, skip 3 hours and 34 minutes into the video.  

 

House Passes Reforms Based on 9/11 Commission Recommendations

Bill Faces Tough Opposition in White House  

 

As 9/11 family members watched from the gallery Tuesday, the House of Representatives, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, passed sweeping legislation to implement recommendations of the 9/11 Commission that have languished in Congress. The bill, named H.R. 1 (to read the full text of the bill, visit THOMAS and search for "H.R. 1" as a bill number), lays out an ambitious inspection program for cargo containers shipped into the United States and sets a goal of 100% screening for all cargo loaded onto passenger planes by 2010. Other sections of the bill address controversial topics such as the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, stopping nuclear proliferation, and foreign relations. “Our first and highest responsibility as members of this Congress is to protect the American people, defend our homeland and strengthen national security,” Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) House majority leader is quoted in New York Times Coverage.  

 

H.R. 1 was passed decisively as part of the “First 100 Legislative Hours” agenda of the new Democratic-controlled Congress. 68 Republicans joined a united 231 Democrats in supporting the measure. Click to see a breakdown of the votes by party. During meetings with Senate staffers this week, VOICES was informed that the Homeland Security Governmental Affairs Committee and Senate leadership is drafting a Senate bill in the coming weeks. After the Senate passes its bill, the next step is a House-Senate conference that will produce a final bill for submission to President Bush. The White House issued an almost section-by-section criticism of H.R. 1 in response to the House's action. VOICES will continue to monitor the progress of the legislation and keep our membership informed as new information is available.

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