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Eleven years after it was created in the wake of 9/11, the department has made significant strides toward its mission to keep our country safe from another devastating terrorist attack. Much work remains to be done, but the job of securing our homeland is a journey without a clear destination point.
Thanks to the hard work of the department and its many federal, state and local partners, Homeland Security has made remarkable progress over the past decade. Information sharing is now much more robust within the federal government and with state and local partners. We now have a well-developed and coordinated watch list system that helps secure our borders and protect our aviation system.
Our border agencies are well integrated within U.S. Customs and Border Protection, illegal entries at the southern border have decreased to the lowest point in more than 30 years, and new layers in our border security system — such as fingerprinting of foreign travelers — have mitigated potential vulnerabilities.
Our commercial aviation system is significantly more secure than it was before 9/11 as a result of the investments made in new screening technology and in an increasingly well-trained Transportation Security Administration workforce. The Department of Homeland Security has also made us safer from natural disasters after Hurricane Katrina exposed gaping vulnerabilities and Congress moved to close them with the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act.
The record of Homeland Security’s successes, in conjunction with the FBI, the intelligence community and the military is clear. Al-Qaida and its direct affiliates have been unable to carry out an attack resembling 9/11 against our homeland since Sept. 11, 2001 — a record of success that I don’t think anyone would have predicted in the immediate weeks and months after the attacks.
Did everything in Homeland Security’s first decade go smoothly? Of course not. I said at the time I helped craft the legislation that created the Department of Homeland Security, and many times since, that building the department would involve no shortage of problems, as any undertaking of this magnitude would. And, the fact is, we live in an open society and face an implacable foe, making it very difficult to stop everyone who wishes do us harm.
Yes, Homeland Security needs to keep making improvements in its management of acquisitions, financial systems and data consolidation.
And it will, if its overseers in Congress are prepared to improve and to support Homeland Security and not tear it down in the process. The road to securing Americans at home has no final destination point.
It has to continue getting better. But Homeland Security has essentially fulfilled the vision we had after 9/11 to create a department that would be more than the sum of its parts, that would bring all agencies essential to the preparation for, prevention of and recovery from disasters under unified leadership, and that would help ensure that we would never again fail to connect the dots of information to prevent the next 9/11 from happening.
Former Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, I-Conn., retired from the Senate at the end of the 112th Congress after 24 years of service.