I rise today for the purposes of explaining my vote on H.R. 5020, which this chamber considered yesterday. I have a high regard for the intelligence officials that serve our country, and I strongly support efforts to make sure that they have the resources to complete their mission competently, professionally, thoroughly and legally. After listening to the debate on this bill, I reached the conclusion that this bill does nothing to rein-in this Administration’s domestic surveillance program conducted by the National Security Agency.
This bill contains some good provisions. It imposes restrictions on the growth of the National Director of Intelligence to ensure resources are applied to strengthening the intelligence community’s ability to penetrate hard targets, and not just add to the growth in bureaucracy. It fully funds the counter-terrorism program. However, the bill’s provisions concerning oversight of domestic counterintelligence activity is tepid at best.
I believe we can conduct domestic intelligence activities in a manner that is consistent with the requirements of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and the protections guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution. There exists a debate in this country if whether the NSA domestic surveillance program is being conducted within the limits of the FISA. During the debate on the bill, I learned several Members sought to offer a bipartisan amendment clarifying that all surveillance of American citizens must follow the law and be consonant with the 4th Amendment of the Constitution. The Rules Committee denied us an opportunity to consider that amendment. Any process that denies us the opportunity to protect our constitutional guarantees does not deserve my support, and for that, reason, I voted against the passage of H.R. 5020
From what I have seen so far, I favor the proposal to replace FEMA with a new ‘National Preparedness and Response Authority,’ whose top official would report to the Homeland Security Secretary, and in times of emergency, would have direct access to confer with the President. Just a few months ago, the House of Representatives came out with a report, “A Failure of Initiative,” which was released by the House Select Committee on Katrina, and criticizes the poor preparation and response to the hurricane. I think it is quite clear that the slow response to Hurricane Katrina led to the massive destruction of the Gulf Coast region, particularly New Orleans. The numerous warnings, inadequate planning and apathy, on the part of FEMA and the Bush administration, in preparing the region for the scope of Hurricane Katrina’s massive devastation were just a few, among many, of the points made in the Committee’s report. In fact, since 9/11, the Republican led Congress has given natural disaster preparedness secondary status in the federal budget, undermining agencies like FEMA and the Coast Guard.
Delegate to Congress Donna M. Christensen said that the Puerto Rico status issue before the Committee of Resources is important and relevant to the Virgin Islands. “Whatever course you take, even the process you adopted, will affect the rest of us,” said Christensen at the oversight hearing on the report by the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status. The report, issued last December, provides for the future status of Puerto Rico and its relationship with the United States.Christensen told the committee that a decision like status evolves and may take a long time. “It cannot be forced, and in my opinion, that is what the Task Force Report and HR 4867 attempts to do.” She expressed her support for HR 4963, the Puerto Rico Self Determination Act of 2006 which she says “opens the process up entirely for the people of Puerto Rico to decide the course and the ultimate status they desire.”