New Jersey lawmaker authored first-ever comprehensive federal fire safety legislation;
served on Democratic Task Force on Homeland Security after 9-11 attacks
WASHINGTON - On the eve of his leaving on a Congressional Delegation trip to Afghanistan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Kyrgystan, Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ-8) announced that he had been chosen by House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, (D-CA) to serve on the new House Select Committee on Homeland Security. This new committee will be the primary committee in the House of Representatives to lead our nation's efforts to implement the Homeland Security Act of 2002. Pascrell is a recognized leader in the House on meeting the needs of our nation's first responders and was a member of the House Democratic Caucus' Homeland Security Task Force in the months following the September 11th terrorist attacks.
"Bill Pascrell's tenure in Congress has been marked by his steadfast leadership on issues facing our nation's first responders, and since the attacks of September 11th he has been a strong voice for our Caucus on enhancing our homeland defense," said House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. "He will bring valuable insights and experience to this Select Committee."
"There is no greater task facing our government today than to protect and defend our cities and towns from those who would plan and carry out attacks," said Pascrell. "Our first challenge is to strengthen our homeland defenses and provide those on the front lines, our firefighters, police officers, and health care workers, with the resources they need to meet the new threats we face. I will continue to work on that through this new assignment"
"This Committee has critical work to do in the days ahead. We must upgrade our security to prevent attacks, and we must improve our preparedness and response capabilities. Failing to do this is simply not an option," said Pascrell.
Pascrell added that fostering communication between the federal government and local homeland security personnel, such as local governments, health care workers, and public safety officials will be a top priority.
Shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, Pascrell was appointed as one of five Chairmen to lead the Democratic Homeland Security Task Force. The Task Force, organized to help write the Democratic Party's official response to terrorism, was charged with crafting specific legislative proposals to assist in securing our borders and our people. Pascrell immediately convened a meeting of firefighters, law enforcement personnel, state and local government officials, and health care leaders to discuss their needs in the wake of the attacks. The meeting produced several substantive recommendations from all sectors of homeland defense, and Pascrell brought the recommendations to his colleagues in Washington.
"I will be stressing that the federal government cannot merely dictate new mandates to the states and local communities. Our homeland security upgrades must come from the bottom-up. Those on the ground everyday protecting our citizens have an open line of communication, have input on key decisions, and always have a seat at the table."
As Chairman of the Task Force's Working Group on Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response, Pascrell took the lead in writing the 'Bioterrorism Protection Act.' The bill provided funding to equip our local communities with the resources needed to prevent and respond to biological and chemical terrorism. Components of the bill eventually became law as part of the overall Bioterrorism Preparedness Act in December 2001.
Pascrell is also a nationally recognized leader in Congress on fighting for federal funding for the nation's first responders. His landmark "Firefighter Investment and Response Enhancement Act," or "FIRE Bill," introduced in March of 1999 and signed in to law in 2000 by President Clinton, was the first comprehensive national legislation dedicated to meet the needs of America's 32,000 volunteer, paid and part-paid fire departments.
Long before the tragic events of September 11, 2001, the Pascrell "FIRE Act" created the Assistance to Firefighter Program, the first-ever, competitive federal grant program to deliver desperately needed resources directly to local fire departments and the taxpayers they protect. Administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and modeled after the successful COPS program, the grants can be used to fund training, firefighting equipment, personal protective equipment for firefighters, and wellness and fitness programs. Since its enactment, the Pascrell Assistance to Firefighter Program has awarded $460 million to local first responders across America.
"I came to Congress committed to ending the days when firefighters were the forgotten part of the public safety equation, and we have accomplished that mission, Pascrell said. "First responders have an ever-increasing role to play in securing our homeland, and I intend to ensure that the Congress' policy and funding decisions in the area of Homeland Security reflect that new reality."
The new Committee's Chairman will be Rep. Christopher Cox, (R-CA-47) and its Ranking Democrat will be Rep. Jim Turner, (D-TX-2. The Committee jurisdiction includes the new Homeland Security Department, and it will have exclusive legislative jurisdiction over all matters relating to the Homeland Security Act.