December 13, 2005 | WebMemo on Department of Homeland Security
Members of the 9/11 Commission issued their final report card on the implementation of the recommendations they made in July 2004. The grades are not good. The commission does not have all the right answers, but its call for action is well worth heeding.
The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, known as the "9/11 Commission," was a bipartisan investigative panel chartered by Congress to analyze the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington. The commission's report served as the basis for the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004. Though the commission's charter expired last year, the commissioners decided to issue a final report on Congress and the Administration's progress at following their suggestions. The commission's report card, like the government's efforts, deserves mixed grades. In some cases, its assessments are spot-on. In others, it offers the wrong solution to the problem or misses critical issues altogether.
The commissioners rightly give Congress failing grades for not passing legislation to ensure that homeland security grants are allocated solely on the basis of national priorities. This legislation has been rejected by the Senate three times, and there is no excuse for maintaining the current system. Insisting that every state get a slice of the federal-funding pie rather than spending money strategically to make all Americans safer is just wrong.
The commissioners give low grades on transportation security, but their prescriptions are wrong-headed, overly focused on trying to "child-proof" America through expensive and intrusive screening and protection systems that in the end might not make us much safer. The Administration's prioritization of efforts here makes more sense.
The commission misses altogether some of the most serious political failures in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. At the top of the list is the failure of the Congress to put together a comprehensive package of border security and immigration reforms that enhance security, promote economic growth, and protect civil liberties. Also missing from the list is the tragic underfunding of the Coast Guard. The same service that saved 33,000 lives during and following Hurricane Katrina faces cuts to its modernization budget in the House.
The commission's report card does not have all the answers, but it is a solid contribution to what should be a very vocal debate about the next steps to take. When the Congress returns from its winter break, homeland security needs to be at the top of the agenda.
James Jay Carafano, Ph.D., is Senior Research Fellow for National Security and Homeland Security, and Alane Kochems is Policy Analyst for National Security and Defense, in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation.