On August 1, 2007, Congress sent one of the most critical bills of the 110th Congress to the President's desk--H.R. 1, Implementing the Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. The first bill passed by the new Democratic-led Congress, H.R. 1 is strong, comprehensive legislation that will make America safer from terrorism by finally enacting the 9/11 Commission's recommendations. The bill was signed into law on August 3, 2007.
In July 2004, the bipartisan 9/11 Commission submitted its recommendations to Congress on how to better protect America from terrorism. Unfortunately, for the next two and half years, the GOP-led Congress failed to enact most of these recommendations into law.
The new National Intelligence Estimate, which states that Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network has been able to restore key capabilities for launching another attack on U.S. soil, highlights the importance of the President quickly signing this critical 9/11 bill into law.
This conference report has strong provisions to better protect America from terrorism - ranging from giving first responders the equipment they need to beefing up efforts to prevent WMD from falling into terrorist hands.
One of the measure's key provisions is requiring 100% scanning of U.S.-bound seaborne containers before they leave foreign ports, within five years. The measure also requires 100% screening of cargo on passenger aircraft within three years.
Speaker Pelosi on final passage of H.R. 1:
Specifically, this legislation includes the following provisions:
Requiring 100% Scanning of Containers Bound for the U.S. Within Five Years. The conference report requires 100% scanning of seaborne containers bound for the U.S. before they leave foreign ports within five years. The measure authorizes the Secretary of Homeland Security to extend this deadline for two years, and additional two-year increments, if certain conditions are met. Commerce will not be brought to a grinding halt by this enhanced security. Rather, these security enhancements, including non-intrusive scanning and seals, will secure commerce against a host of threats, not just terrorism. This plan is workable; since January 2005, two of the busiest terminals in the world - in Hong Kong - scan 100% of outgoing cargo containers.
Requiring 100% Screening of Cargo on Passenger Aircraft Within Three Years. The conference report requires 100% screening of cargo on passenger aircraft within there years, with specific benchmarks established for the three-year phase-in.
Authorizing Additional Investments in Airport Security. The measure authorizes funding increases for critical aviation security programs - including authorizing $250 million annually for checkpoint screening, $450 million annually for baggage screening, and $50 million annually for aviation security R&D.
Ensuring Communications Interoperability for First Responders. The measure improves the communications capabilities of first responders by establishing a stand-alone communications interoperability grant program at the Department of Homeland Security, to ensure that our firefighters and police officers can communicate with each other in the event of an emergency. The bill authorizes $400 million a year for these new interoperability grants - for fiscal years 2009 through 2012.
Providing Risk-Based Allocation of Homeland Security Grants. The measure ensures that homeland security grants will be allocated primarily on the basis of risk, with the risk assessment by the Department of Homeland Security determining each state's funding and the state minimum being lowered from .75% per state to .375% per state (with the state minimum declining to .35% per state over 5 years).
Rail and Mass Transit Security
Authorizing Rail and Mass Transit Security Grants. The measure authorizes more than $4 billion over the next five years for security grant programs to enhance the security of mass transit, over-the-road buses, and freight and passenger rail.
Private Sector Preparedness
Improving Private Sector Preparedness. The measure requires the Department of Homeland Security to establish voluntary preparedness standards for the private sector and designate a third-party organization to certify businesses' adherence to the standards.
Strengthening Intelligence and Information Sharing with Local Law Enforcement. The measure contains several provisions to strengthen intelligence and information sharing with local law enforcement. First, it strengthens state and local intelligence “fusion” centers, which have been established to gather, analyze and disseminate potentially homeland security-relevant information to appropriate state and local officials. Second, it strengthens the presence of federal agencies, such as the Border Patrol, at fusion centers in border states. Thirdly, it improves the Department of Homeland Security's Information Sharing Programs.
Preventing Proliferation of WMD
Preventing Terrorists from Acquiring WMD. The measure includes a number of provisions to take more aggressive steps to prevent terrorists from acquiring WMD, including: 1) strengthening DOD's Cooperative Threat Reduction (or “Nunn-Lugar”) program; 2) strengthening the Energy Department's Global Threat Reduction Initiative; 3) providing for reforms, increased tools and greater oversight over the Proliferation Security Initiative, through which the U.S. and participating countries interdict WMD; and 4) creating a Coordinator for the Prevention of WMD Proliferation, who would serve as a presidential advisor.
Strengthening Efforts to Prevent Terrorist Travel. The measure improves the capabilities of the Human Smuggling and Trafficking Center by authorizing additional funding to stem human smuggling, human trafficking, and terrorism travel, including requiring the hiring of experienced intelligence analysts in the field of human trafficking and terrorist travel.
Visa Waiver Program
Providing Stronger Security Measures for the Visa Waiver Program. The measure transforms the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) into a security-focused program. It puts security first by requiring the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to establish an Electronic Travel Authorization system to prescreen individual VWP travelers against watchlists and other databases before they are approved for visa-free travel. DHS must also implement an exit tracking system to record the departure by air of visitors to the United States. The exit system must be biometric by June 30, 2009. Finally, the measure requires VWP countries to immediately report lost and stolen passports, so these cannot be used by terrorists or criminals.
Protecting Good Faith Reporting of Suspected Terrorist Activity. The measure provides immunity from lawsuits for individuals who report suspicious activity that poses a threat to a passenger transportation system or appears to be an act of terrorism. The measure strikes the right balance between homeland security and civil liberties. To get the protection, a report of suspicious activity must be made in good faith, must be reasonable, and must be made without a reckless disregard for the truth.
Overall Intelligence Budget
Disclosing Intelligence Budget Total. As recommended by the 9/11 Commission, the measure provides for the disclosure of the intelligence budget total for FY 2007 and FY 2008. It also includes a provision authorizing a report that could allow the President to waive disclosure after two years if the report finds that the declassification has damaged national security.
Reducing Appeal of Extremism
Providing for Strategies to Reduce the Appeal of Extremism. The measure contains extensive provisions to reduce the appeal of extremism around the world - including promoting quality educational opportunities, such as the Muslim Youth Opportunity Fund; restoring U.S. moral leadership around the world, with investing in greater public diplomacy efforts; and developing long-term strategies, not focused on elections, to promote democracy and human rights.