Parties differ on homeland security

House Select Committee on Homeland Security

When it comes to homeland security, the Republicans see the glass as half full and the Democrats see it as half empty.

Five days before the one-year anniversary of the creation of the Homeland Security Department, Republican and Democratic members of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security squared off, holding overlapping press conferences today either touting gaps or advancements.

Chairman Christopher Cox (R-Calif.) said he expected partisan differences because it's an election year, but added that he had a "long and good conversation" last night with committee's top Democrat, Rep. Jim Turner (D-Texas), and would continue to work with all Democrats.

"It's fair game in democracy to talk about these issues," Cox said.

Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), calling herself a "passionate bipartisan," said she would have liked to have had a joint press conference with the Republicans.

"Again, I would repeat that the people of America would prefer us all to be standing together, and the terrorists are certainly not going to check our party registrations before they blow us up," Harman said. "This is sad that we had to do this on a one-party basis." Cox made almost the same statement about a half-hour later during the Republican press conference.

Both sides readily admit America is much safer than a year ago, but during their press conference, Democrats issued a 135-page report outlining serious security gaps in areas such as biodefense, ports, borders, airports, critical infrastructure, cyberspace, food supply, nuclear material and chemical plants, and privacy.

They charged that the Bush administration has been too slow in some areas, such as delaying the integration of 12 terrorist watch lists into the FBI-led Terrorist Screening Center, which Democrats now claim has been pushed back to the end of the year. (However, Cox maintained the deadline is still July.) They also said the administration is shortchanging first responder needs such as communications interoperability for next year.

"There are some who say that we are safer than we were before the attacks of Sept. 11," 2001, Turner said. "I believe that is true. But that sets the bar way too low."

Republicans said significant improvements were made in every area from cybersecurity to screening cargo containers, citing the speed at which many of those improvements were done in the past year. They concede that the country could never be 100 percent safe, but it's difficult to correct years, perhaps decades, of neglect in these areas, according to Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas).

"I am an impatient person," he said. "I want to solve all of these problems immediately. But they cannot be solved immediately."

Cox pointed out a new DHS report, "Securing Our Homeland," calling it a blueprint and strategic plan for making further improvements, but declined to talk about it.

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