U.S. Is Given Failing Grades By 9/11 Panel
Tuesday, December 6, 2005
The federal government received failing and mediocre grades yesterday from the former Sept. 11 commission, whose members said in a final report that the Bush administration and Congress have balked at enacting numerous reforms that could save American lives and prevent another terrorist attack on U.S. soil.
The 10-member bipartisan panel -- whose book-length report about the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks became a surprise bestseller -- issued a "report card" that included 5 F's, 12 D's and two "incompletes" in categories including airline passenger screening and improving first responders' communication system.
The group also said there has been little progress in forcing federal agencies to share intelligence and terrorism information and sharply criticized government efforts to secure weapons of mass destruction or establish clear standards for the proper treatment of U.S. detainees.
"We believe that the terrorists will strike again," the panel's chairman, Thomas H. Kean, a former Republican governor of New Jersey, told reporters in Washington. "If they do, and these reforms that might have prevented such an attack have not been implemented, what will our excuses be?"
Leading Democrats on Capitol Hill immediately seized on the report, accusing the Bush administration and the GOP-controlled Congress of failing to adequately prepare for future terrorist strikes. Republicans and the White House countered that the government has adopted many of the commission's proposed changes and that administration policies have helped prevent additional catastrophic attacks in the United States.
The report card -- which assigns letter grades to the panel's 41 key recommendations -- marks the last official act by commission members, whose hearings and findings have sparked three years of public debate over the extent of government mistakes before the Sept. 11 attacks. After the release of the "9/11 Commission Report" last year, the commission re-created itself as a private nonprofit group focused on pressuring Congress and the Bush administration to adopt its recommendations.
According to the panel, the government deserves only one top grade, an A-minus, for its "vigorous effort against terrorist financing." The panel gave out B's and C's for government performance on issues such as the creation of a director of national intelligence and an ongoing presence in Afghanistan.
But in nearly half the categories, the government merited a D, an F or an incomplete grade, according to the report card. Kean and other commission members said at a news conference in Washington that all the goals should be achievable, but that many have languished amid political skirmishing and bureaucratic turf battles.
"None of this is rocket science," said John F. Lehman (R), a Navy secretary in the Reagan administration. "None of it is in the 'too hard' category."
One of his colleagues, former Indiana congressman Timothy J. Roemer (D), said that "al Qaeda is quickly changing and we are not. Al Qaeda is highly dynamic and we are not. Al Qaeda is highly imaginative and we are not."
Kean and other panel members focused particular attention on two issues currently stalled in Congress. One proposal would change the way the Department of Homeland Security distributes state grant money, most of which is allocated evenly among the states -- leading sparsely populated states such as Wyoming to receive nearly twice as much money per capita as major terrorist targets such as New York.
An amendment to a House bill reauthorizing the USA Patriot Act would place primary emphasis for homeland security funding on risk assessments, but the proposal is not included in a House-Senate compromise bill because of opposition from small-state senators.