Dems give Bush low marks on homeland security

A Democratic think tank issued a report today blasting the Bush administration for not matching its rhetoric on homeland security with actions.

"America at Risk, A Homeland Security Report Card," a report by the Democratic Leadership Council's Progressive Policy Institute, gives the administration and the Homeland Security Agency an overall grade of D. The agency did not return calls seeking comment.

"We measured against the standard set by the Bush administration," said Will Marshall, president of the Washington-based group.

A year ago, the president said that the government had no more important mission than protecting the homeland from terrorist attacks.

But the Progressive Policy Institute found weaknesses in seven broad areas:

  • Intelligence gathering and analysis, which received a D

  • Security at the state and local level, a D-

  • Controlling the national borders, a D

  • Protecting critical facilities, a D

  • Protecting against bioterror attacks, a C
  • Defending civil liberties and privacy, a C-

  • Managing the improvement of homeland security, a D

  • There were bright spots with in these categories, which had subcategories that also received grades. Nuclear power plant security received an A. The next highest grade, however, was a B- for passenger security.

    "It is unfortunate that the report mainly criticizes and doesn't offer concrete solutions," said Rachael Sunbarger, a spokeswoman for the Homeland Security Department. "We feel we are making progress everyday and that the country is safer than it was on Sept. 10. We are making progress. We've got a good thing going."

    Marshall said part of the problem is the Republican Party's philosophy that government is bad and should be held in check. Many in the GOP see efforts to improve homeland security as "a ruse to boost domestic spending," he said.

    "The shame is that we have the technology, we have the resources, we have the power," said Rep. Jim Turner, D-Texas, "but we are in a stage where the national leadership has failed to do its job."

    Turner, ranking Democrat on the House Select Committee on Homeland Security, criticized the Homeland Security Department and the Bush administration in general for not creating a system for sharing intelligence data between state, local and federal officials.

    "A year ago, they said they would have a single (terrorist) watch list, but still today there are a multitude of lists, and the same people aren't on all the lists," he said.

    Another criticism of the report that Turner supported was the lack of comprehensive threat and vulnerability assessments. Without being able to map vulnerabilities against the threats, the government cannot make sound decisions on where to spend money, he said.

    "We have the ability to overcome these problems, but we have yet to have the national will," Turner said.

    (Posted 3:04 p.m. July 23, 2003; updated 10:07 a.m. July 24)

    About the Author

    Nick Wakeman is the editor-in-chief of Washington Technology. Follow him on Twitter: @nick_wakeman.

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