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Dems Charge Homeland Failures

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Nearly three years after it was created, the Homeland Security Department hasn't kept 33 of its promises to better protect the country, according to House Democrats overseeing the agency.

A report released Tuesday by 13 members of the House Homeland Security Committee says that gaps still remain in federal efforts to defend the nation against terrorism — including at ports, borders and chemicals plants.

The department also fails to share alerts and other intelligence quickly with state and local officials, according to the Democrats' report, which analyzes public statements and congressional testimony that outline Bush administration security goals since 2002.

"It's our job in Congress to hold the Department of Homeland Security accountable for the work that it does and doesn't do," Rep. Bennie G. Thompson of Mississippi, the committee's top Democrat, said in a statement accompanying the report.

"It would be one thing if the department didn't identify security lapses in the first place, but a more troubling situation when they make promises to the American people and then leave them unfulfilled," Thompson said.

Responding, Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke said the department is prioritizing resources and programs based on "today's greatest threats."

"As we secure and shut down vulnerabilities, we know that terrorists will seek new ways to carry out their agenda," Knocke said. "Rather than looking backward at yesterday's threats, we are building upon what we have already accomplished to meet evolving threats."

The Homeland Security Department officially opened its doors in March 2003. It was created in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks to bolster protections of potential domestic targets.

Since then, according to the report, the department has failed to:

  • Compile a single, comprehensive list prioritizing protections for the nation's most critical and potentially vulnerable buildings, transportation systems and other infrastructure.
  • Install monitors at borders and every international seaport and airport to screen for radiation material entering the country.
  • Install surveillance cameras at all high-risk chemical plants.
  • Create one effective network to share quickly security-related intelligence and alerts with state, local and private industry officials.
  • Track international visitors through a computerized system that takes their fingerprints and photographs as they enter and exit the country.

    Although the department has missed many of the original deadlines it set for some programs, it is working to complete them.

    In June, for example, Homeland Security for the first time agreed to pursue federal security regulations for chemical plants that have been mostly policed by private industry.

    And last week, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said the department will have finished the entry portion of the system to track foreigners — named US-VISIT — by the end of the year at 115 airports, 14 seaports and 150 land crossings into the country.