updated 3/3/2004 4:29:12 PM ET 2004-03-03T21:29:12

The House unanimously passed legislation Wednesday giving the federal commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks more time to finish its work.

Under the bill approved by voice vote, the commission would receive an additional 60 days to issue its final report, or until July 26. The bipartisan panel also would have until Aug. 26 to wind down its business, a period when it declassifies information for public release.

The Senate passed the same version of the bill Friday. It now goes to President Bush for his signature; Bush last month said he supported a two-month extension.

Congress established the Sept. 11 panel — officially known as the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States — to study the nation’s preparedness before the attacks and its response afterward, and to make recommendations for guarding against similar disasters.

The commission was to finish its work on May 27, but members last month asked for a two-month extension, citing repeated delays because of disputes with the Bush administration over access to witnesses and documents.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., initially opposed an extension, citing the risk that the report might become a “political football” if it were released closer to the November elections. But he changed course Friday, acknowledging the panel’s “difficulties in obtaining clearances and in obtaining documents.”

The 10-member commission is pressing President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney to meet with it privately to discuss what the administration knew before the attacks. But Bush and Cheney have said they will only meet with two commissioners in separate one-hour meetings.

On Wednesday, six Democratic U.S. representatives from New York, the site of the World Trade Center collapse, wrote a letter calling on Bush to ease his conditions on the meeting. Former President Bill Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore are scheduled to meet the full panel in mid-March without time constraints.

“The commission is now seeking additional time to complete its report in large part because of this poor cooperation on the part of your administration,” stated the letter drafted by Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y.

“We are hopeful that now, in the final weeks of the commission’s existence, your White House will provide full cooperation,” the letter stated.

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