Good morning. In the past week, U.S. officials in Pakistan took custody of five
al Qaeda members, including a key strategist for the September the 11th attacks.
And here in America, federal agents arrested six men suspected of having trained
at al Qaeda terrorist camps in Afghanistan.
These arrests remind us that we are engaged in a new kind of war, fought on
many fronts, including the home front. The arrests also remind us that the enemy
is still at large, threatening our safety and security. Defeating terrorism
requires constant vigilance and preparation by our citizens and by our government.
One way for the Congress to protect the American people is to pass legislation
creating a new department of homeland security. This new department must have
a single, overriding responsibility, to coordinate our homeland defense efforts,
which are now scattered across the government.
After less than a week of debate, the House of Representatives passed a good
bill, a bill that gives me the flexibility to confront emerging threats quickly
and effectively. Yet after three weeks of debate, the Senate has still not passed
a bill I can sign. The legislation the Senate is debating is deeply flawed.
The Senate bill would force the new department to fight against terror threats
with one hand tied behind its back. The department of homeland security must
be able to move people and resources quickly, to respond to threats immediately,
without being forced to comply with a thick book of bureaucratic rules.
Yet the current Senate approach keeps in place a cumbersome process that can
take five months to hire a needed employee, and 18 months to fire someone who
is not doing his job. In the war on terror, this is time we do not have.
Even worse, the Senate bill would weaken my existing authority to prohibit collective
bargaining when national security is at stake. Every President since Jimmy Carter
has had this very narrow authority throughout the government, and I need this
authority in the war on terror.
As Democrat Senator Zell Miller said, the daunting task of securing this country
is almost incomprehensible. Let's not make it more difficult by tying this President's
hands and the hands of every President who comes after him.
In an effort to break the logjam in the Senate, Senator Miller and Republican
Senator Phil Gramm have taken the lead in crafting a bipartisan alternative
to the current flawed Senate bill. I commend them, and support their approach.
Their proposal would provide the new secretary of homeland security much of
the flexibility he needs to move people and resources to meet new threats. It
will protect every employee of the new department against illegal discrimination,
and build a culture in which federal employees know they are keeping their fellow
citizens safe through their service to America.
I ask you to call your senators and to urge them to vote for this bipartisan
alternative. Senators Miller and Gramm, along with Senator Fred Thompson, have
made great progress in putting the national interest ahead of partisan interest.
I'm confident that every Senator, Republican and Democrat, wants to do what
is best for America.
Creating a new department of homeland security will make America stronger and
safer. It is time for the Senate to act.