Editorial Roundup for Wednesday — December 7, 2005

• The 9-11 Commission: Armor for dogs

The 9-11 Commission: Armor for dogs

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 6, 2005

The independent commission that investigated the 9-11 attacks on the United States issued its “final” report 17 months ago, but hung around with private funding to see how much attention the nation paid to its recommendations.

The answer came back Monday: Not enough.

“We see some positive changes,” said former 9-11 Commission Chairman Thomas H. Kean, a Republican and former governor of New Jersey, and Co-chairman Lee H. Hamilton, a former Democratic U.S. representative from Indiana. “But there is so much more to be done. There are far too many C’s, D’s and F’s in the report card. Many obvious steps that the American people assume have been completed have not been. Our leadership is distracted. Some of these failures are shocking.”

Among them:

  • Police and firefighters in many large cities still can’t communicate with each other during emergencies.
  • Airline passengers aren’t screened against the terrorist watch list.
  • Homeland security funds are doled on the basis of pork barrel politics, not according to likely risk of attack.

“We are safer, but we are not yet safe,” Mssrs. Kean and Hamilton reported. “Four years after 9-11, we are not as safe as we could be, and that is not acceptable.”

The commission’s report, made public in August 2004, included a long list of recommendations for defending the nation against terrorist attack. The “report card” issued Monday noted progress in such areas as screening at border entry points; standardizing identification documents; reorganizing the leadership of intelligence agencies; cooperation among counterintelligence offices and interdicting terrorist finances.

But the commission gave the Bush administration a “D” on its efforts to secure weapons of mass destruction worldwide, weapons it called “the greatest threat to America’s security.” White House spokesman Dan Bartlett responded, “We’re not resting on our laurels.”

Laurels? What laurels?

Congress and state governments deserve much of the blame for inaction as well. Congress got a “D” for its intelligence oversight efforts, and an “F” on spending homeland security money. Since 9/11, Congress has doled out $14 billion in homeland security money. But the distribution formula is classic pork-barrel politics, resulting in people in less populous states getting two or three times as much money per capita as those in more densely populated areas.

Some state governments have spent homeland security dollars not to upgrade emergency radio systems (as Missouri has done) but on air-conditioning garbage trucks (Newark, N.J.) and buying armored vests for rescue dogs (Columbus, Ohio).

Its work complete and its report card issued, the 9/11 commission will go out of business Dec. 31. Distracted or not, the administration and Congress owe it to the country to pay more attention to problems than to pork.

  • To read the commission’s complete report card, go to the 9-11 Public Discourse Project at www.911pdp.org

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