The Sept. 11 commission closes down Saturday, but its members plan to continue testifying before Congress and traveling the country to try to get the government to improve homeland security.
After the attacks, Congress created the commission to investigate what went wrong and recommend fixes. By law, it was to officially disband one month after releasing its final report.
Commissioners now want to use the pressure of an election year to publicly lobby for more than 40 changes they recommended. The main one was that a national director should be appointed to oversee the nation’s 15 intelligence agencies.
In a joint statement, Commission Chairman Thomas Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton said “the nation’s political leadership is responding with prompt attention” to the panel’s recommendations.
“We fully endorse deliberation on these important questions, but not delay,” they said.
Lorie Van Auken, who lost her husband at the World Trade Center, said Sept. 11 families also plan to keep up the pressure for change.
“We want everybody’s attention to stay focused on the report and its recommendations because the status quo failed us,” she said.
After the release of the commission’s final report, the panel’s five Republicans and five Democrats set out in bipartisan pairs across the country to promote their recommended reforms, stopping in Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago, Atlanta, Boston and other cities.
With the help of private funds, the commissioners plan to continue those trips. Commission spokesman Al Felzenberg declined to say how much money has been raised, but said there’s no doubt there will be funds to continue the lobbying effort.
The money also will help pay for a staff of about a half-dozen people to act as liaisons to Congress and to coordinate speaking engagements.
No further investigative work or research is planned, but four additional reports are expected to be released in coming weeks. Topics include terrorism financing, counterterrorism policy and aviation.
Panel finds government ill-prepared
The panel’s final report concluded that the government failed to recognize the danger posed by al-Qaida, and was ill-prepared to respond to the terrorist attack. It recommended a major overhaul of the nation’s intelligence-gathering, including the new post of director of national intelligence and a new counterterrorism center.
The findings prompted Congress to schedule more than a dozen hearings in August, when members normally are on their summer break.
Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry was quick to endorse all the recommendations. President Bush has announced his support for creating a new intelligence director, though it’s not clear if the director would have the full budget power and authority that the commission recommended.
“We really did not expect, although we hoped for, action before the election,” said Republican commissioner Slade Gorton, a former senator from Washington state. Still, he said, “There’s a very real promise of action.”
The Pentagon, which controls the majority of intelligence spending, would almost certainly see some of its authority taken away. Officials there have expressed concerns about giving a new intelligence chief too much power.
“Resistance is coming from all the predictable places,” said commission member Jamie Gorelick, a former assistant attorney general in the Clinton administration. “Anyone who would have to give up authority or turf is resisting, and yet the urgency remains.”