Homeland Security pick cites need to help state, local governments
President-elect Barack Obama's pick to lead the sprawling Homeland Security Department on Thursday pledged to forge better relationships with state and local governments, especially when it comes to dealing with the large price tag of some homeland security-related activities.
Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee during her confirmation hearing that one of the main reasons she was selected to lead the department is because she has experience dealing with homeland security issues at the state and local government level.
"The federal government cannot do the homeland security function alone," she said. "That is something that I hope to spend a great deal of effort on."
She indicated she would seek more funding to help state and local governments buy radios that are interoperable, allowing emergency responders to communicate with each other across jurisdictions and during disasters. She said the lack of funding for interoperable radios, along with the lack of technical expertise within the federal government, has stymied efforts in states like Arizona.
"We've got to get this done," she said. "This is something that the department really should take a leadership role on." She also said she, if confirmed, would convene governors to review the so-called Real ID law, which requires states to issue new secure driver's licenses to their citizens.
As governor, Napolitano signed a state law rejecting implementation of Real ID. She said Thursday her main opposition to the program is that it represents an unfunded mandate for the states. But she did not say if she would seek to repeal Real ID. "If it's a matter that needs to be taken up again legislatively, I hope to work with this committee on the necessary improvements," she said. Napolitano said another priority for her will be improving rail and public transit security. She said she wanted to move fast and come up with ways to make improvements within 90 days.
About border security, Napolitano did not indicate she would make any significant changes to the Bush administration's current efforts. She said the so-called SBInet program, which aims to use technology to control the border, "could hold great promise, but affirmed a role for fencing along some parts of the border, in conjunction with technology and Border Patrol agents. But she added she would seek to increase sanctions and prosecutions against employers that hire illegal immigrants.
She also said she wants to talk with Defense Secretary Robert Gates to see if the National Guard should return to the border to help with security.
Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., said he believes Napolitano is ready to lead the department. But he said he does not believe an effort would succeed in Congress to reduce the number of committees and subcommittees that the department reports to, which now stands at 86. "It's really not a good situation," he said. "I don't know that we can offer you really the prospect of legislative help on this."
Lieberman said after the hearing he hopes Napolitano will be confirmed by the Senate by Wednesday.