‘Unacceptable.” That’s what the Captain of Rescue 1, Terry Hatton, would say when the New York City firefighters he was training would drop the ball in potentially life-threatening situations.
And that’s what deserves to be said about U.S. government’s failure to implement the public safety improvements recommended by the 9/11 Commission – it’s just unacceptable.
More than 4 years after the attacks and more than a year after the commission’s exhaustive 567-page report, 9/11 commission members said yesterday that the U.S. government deserves an overall failing grade for implementing its 41 specific recommendations.
“It’s not a priority for the government right now … a lot of the things we need to do really to prevent another 9/11 just simply aren’t being done by the president or by the Congress,” said the commission’s chairman, Thomas Kean, a former Republican governor of New Jersey, on “Meet The Press.” The bipartisan commission cannot make it any clearer: out of 41 specific recommendations, they gave 5 Fs, 12 Ds, and only one A-.
For example, the Commission gave an “F” for the effort to allocate Homeland Security funds based on risk instead of the conventional congressional pork barrel formulas that direct more money per capita to Wyoming than New York City. The Senate is currently debating whether to adopt funding changes in committee – among the votes holding up progress are those of Senators DeWine, Rockefeller, Roberts, Leahy, and Hatch. All represent largely rural states, but it is time for them to step up and allow sensible provisions already passed by the House to get a fair vote in the Senate. It is particularly absurd that the chairman and vice chairman of the Intelligence Committee – Senators Roberts of Kansas and Rockefeller of West Virginia – should be among those holding this common-sense reform hostage.
The commission gave the government an additional F for the failure to establish a single radio spectrum for emergency responders. Adequate technology now exists, but broadcasting industry lobbyists are blocking the adoption of a national frequency because it might cut into their potential profits. Congress is poised to vote on this measure in the coming weeks – but with a 2009 implementation date. Some action is better than none, and a “yes” vote would not only help improve future disaster response but help remind lobbyists that the airwaves are owned by the public, not their industry.
The list of disheartening deadlocks goes on. A consolidated terrorist watch list has not been compiled to improve airline passenger prescreening. A National Infrastructure Protection Plan was submitted this past month with “no risk and vulnerability assessments actually … made; no national priorities established, no recommendations made on allocations of scarce resources.” Non-proliferation efforts to secure nuclear sites have been given a luxurious 14-year timetable for completion. Information sharing between government agencies remains stubbornly resisted on a bureaucratic level. There has been no action taken to responsibly declassify the overall intelligence budget in an effort to gauge its effectiveness and apply accountability. Recommendations to “support reform in Saudi Arabia” and “support secular education in Muslim countries” received an anemic “D” rating. And the Commission’s sole “A-minus” grade – for efforts against terrorist financing – was given with the cold splash of water caveat that “the State Department and the Treasury Department are engaged in unhelpful turf battles, and the overall effort lacks leadership.”
Even the most high-profile success to date, the establishment of a director of national intelligence, was adopted over initial administration reluctance during an election year.
Part of the problem has been the lack of consistent focus on homeland security action items in a time of competing priorities, such as tax cuts and the war in Iraq. But there seems to be a deeper resistance to adopting these unanimously recommended bipartisan reforms because of the paranoiac political atmosphere in today’s hyper-partisan Washington. There is an instinctive allergy to outside recommendations, a sense that exterior voices are hostile and partisan – suggestions are seen as oppositional instead of supplemental to the administration’s overall efforts in the war on terror.
When Democrats crow over the commission’s findings in an effort to score partisan points, they just deepen the problem. This is about national responsibilities, not partisan politics. And the reality is that none of the 9/11 commission’s recommendations can be characterized as simply Democrat or Republican. There is no Democrat or Republican way to protect the nation – just responsible actions and inaction.
And because the prospect of another terrorist attack is a matter of not “if” but “when” and “what magnitude,” there will be blood on the hands of the administrators and legislators who have failed to follow through on behalf of the American people. There is no excuse for having no sense of urgency. We should not need another wakeup call.
This is on the verge of being a national scandal with a real body count. The American people have every reason to be outraged. The people who died in the attacks of September 11th – including Rescue 1 Captain Terry Hatton – deserve far better. Those of us who are still alive have every right to expect more, so that further attacks do not occur without us knowing that we did everything in our power to stop them. After all, those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.