Areas of Interest
After the attacks on September 11, 2001, Americans learned that our country is vulnerable to attack, and that we must do more to protect and secure our nation. These challenges and responsibilities have demanded strong leadership, and I am proud of the progress we have made toward increasing the security of Nevada and our nation.
Because of the tremendous population growth in our state and the more than 50 million annual visitors that travel to Nevada, it is essential that federal, state, and local officials continually improve their communication and coordination for homeland security purposes. I have been working to provide increased homeland security funding for Las Vegas and Reno, and I will continue to ensure that our local law enforcement officials have the resources they need to keep us safe. For example, I have fought for years to ensure that Las Vegas remained on the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) funding list, a federal grant program that provides funding to secure high density urban areas around the country. I insisted that the UASI funding formula include transient and tourist populations, and Nevada has benefited from more than $53 million in UASI grant funding. Because Las Vegas has recently fallen off the list of cities to receive UASI funds, I worked with the Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security to ensure that Las Vegas will be eligible for funding in future years. This money is vital to Nevada first responders in their fight to protect the people of Nevada and the millions of tourists who visit the state each year.
I also introduced the Improving America’s Security Act, which strengthens homeland security and implements the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations to protect our nation from terrorist attacks. Among other things, this law changed homeland security grant formulas to account for short-term populations, such as tourists. For the five years before this legislation was enacted in 2007, the largest homeland security grant programs distributed funds using a formula that arbitrarily set aside a large portion of funds to be divided equally among the states, regardless of size or need. That was the wrong approach and I am glad that the new law ensures that Nevada receives appropriate federal resources. For example, this law also increased the amount of funding that can be allocated to states with the highest risks, such as Nevada. The new formula will be distributed overwhelmingly based on the risk to an area from a terrorist attack. The funds would be allocated through Urban Area Security Grants, State Homeland Security Grants, Emergency Management Performance Grants, and emergency communications and interoperability grants. Additionally, I secured $22 million for the Nevada National Security Site as part of the National Domestic Preparedness Consortium as a part of the Department of Homeland Security’s 2009 Appropriations. Most recently, the Department of Homeland Security has awarded the Nevada Public Safety Emergency Management a $3.4 million grant to help prepare, prevent, and respond to terrorist attacks and other disasters.
To bolster our national security against bioterrorist attacks, I facilitated the creation of a National Biosurveillance Integration Center to enhance the federal government’s ability to identify and disseminate warnings of significant biological threats. I have also been a strong supporter of funding for programs to secure and destroy chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons in the former Soviet Union, including passage of the New START treaty, as well as provisions to significantly increase funding for biological weapons counterproliferation programs.
The tragic shooting at the Lloyd D. George Federal Courthouse in Las Vegas in 2010 was a stark reminder of the importance of securing our courthouses. That is why I worked to pass the Court Security Improvement Act, which authorized $45 million in grants for court security improvements and new equipment for security personnel, enhanced criminal penalties for assaulting public officials, prosecutors, and witnesses, and increased protection for judges and their families against the malicious publication of their personal information by individuals who intend them harm. In order to preserve the freedom and integrity of our judiciary, court personnel must be protected from attack.
In addition, I have always supported the Nonprofit Security Grant Program, which provides funding support for target hardening and other physical security enhancements and activities to nonprofit organizations that are at high risk of a terrorist attack. This funding is particularly important for Las Vegas, which remains a target for terrorist attacks. I will continue to bring security funding to Las Vegas in order to protect both residents and visitors alike who enjoy all that the city has to offer.
With our economic, military, energy, and transportation infrastructure increasingly becoming “wired,” our nation faces no greater threat in the 21st Century than a major cyber attack. Las Vegas sits on top of one of the largest intersections of fiber-optic networks in the world. A disruption to these networks caused by a major cyber attack could take down the networks of Nevada’s businesses, cause power outages, interrupt financial transactions, and even cause major infrastructure to fail. While the United States has been the world’s leading innovator in developing information technology, our defenses have not kept pace.
That is why I have led a broad Senate effort to pass comprehensive legislation to enhance our nation’s cyber security and give our government the tools it needs to prevent, deter, and respond to cyber attacks. In 2011, I joined the chairmen of seven key committees in introducing the Cyber Security and American Cyber Competitiveness Act, which lays out a roadmap to improving our nation’s defenses in cyberspace. Recently, in August and November 2012, I brought similar legislation, the Cyber Security Act of 2012, for a vote on the Senate floor. Unfortunately, on both occasions, my Senate colleagues on the other side of the aisle decided to place narrow corporate interests above our nation’s security by rejecting this important legislation. I will continue to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to pass key cyber security legislation in the 113th Congress.
I remain deeply concerned about the horrific violence perpetrated by drug trafficking organizations in Mexico. This is a shared problem between the United States and Mexico, and we must work towards a shared solution. I supported the Mérida Initiative which has helped the Mexican government combat violence and drug-trafficking. Congress provided support for Mérida Initiative programs in Mexico, with an early emphasis on training and equipping Mexican security forces engaged in counterdrug efforts and a new focus on rule of law and institution building through training and technical assistance. Thanks to the initiative, as of May 2013, some 19,000 law enforcement officers, including 4,000 federal police investigators, have completed U.S.-funded courses. Another 8,500 federal and 22,500 state justice sector personnel have received training on their roles in Mexico’s new accusatorial justice system.
I took the initiative in improving border security as the original sponsor of the Improving America’s Security Act. This legislation, which became law in 2007, improved communications capabilities among emergency response providers near border areas, mandated the hiring of hundreds of new Customs and Border Protections officers, and supported the integration of chemical and nuclear detection equipment with border security systems. In 2008, I secured a $3 billion surge in emergency spending to substantially increase the number of Border Patrol Agents; deploy more unmanned aerial vehicles, ground-based radar, and camera towers to help patrol isolated areas of the border; construct roads along the border for the use of Border Patrol vehicles, as well as additional miles of vehicle and pedestrian fencing; and achieve and maintain operational control over the international land and maritime borders of the United States. In August 2010, I led the passage of a $600 million border security package that allocated funding to hire an additional 1,000 Border Patrol agents, 250 new Customs and Border Protection officers, and 250 new Immigration and Customs Enforcement personnel. Additionally, this legislation funded upgrades for communications equipment used by border security agents, as well as the purchase of additional unmanned drones to curb human trafficking and drug smuggling.
Since I became Democratic Leader in 2007, the budget for Customs and Border Patrol has grown significantly. In 2012, Congress funded Customs and Border Protection at $11.7 billion—64 percent more than Fiscal Year 2006 and $262 million more than in Fiscal Year 2011. This amount is in addition to the $600 million appropriated by Congress in the 2010 emergency supplemental border security bill. The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, passed by the Senate in June 2013, would make an unprecedented $46 billion investment in additional border security enhancements and set clear and tough targets for border security. This bipartisan legislation would require persistent surveillance along the Southern Border and a 90 percent “effectiveness rate,” i.e., 9 out of every 10 attempts to enter the country illegally would have to be stopped.
Our local police, firefighters, and those who serve in the National Guard are the front lines in working to ensure our security and safety. First responders are critical to our national security, and I have always been a strong supporter of funding for local law enforcement. As I have traveled throughout Nevada, I have learned that homeland security is hometown security, and I remain committed to provide first responders with the training, staffing, equipment, and technology they need.
Responding to the needs of first responders, I have helped to deliver federal funding totaling more than $100 million since 2000 to the men and women who protect our community. For Example, in Southern Nevada, I helped secure funds for a Mobile Command Center to improve police officers’ ability to respond and communicate during a crisis. In Northern Nevada, I funded anti-methamphetamine projects in Carson City. And in rural Nevada, I helped to purchase equipment for nurses to complete sexual assault exams. In May 2012, I was pleased to announce that the City of Reno received a $13,707,520 grant which retained 64 firefighters and fully staffed all 14 stations. The funding came from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and was part of The Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Grants (SAFER) program. SAFER provides funding to local fire departments and volunteer firefighter interest organizations to help them increase the number of trained firefighters.