Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, the chairman and vice chairman, respectively, of the 9/11 commission, were the guests at Monday's breakfast. They have just issued a new report assessing how the White House and Congress responded to the 9/11 panel's recommendations for improving homeland security.
Thomas Kean is a former governor of New Jersey and also served as president of Drew University. He is now chairman of the Board of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the nation's largest foundation focused on health and healthcare. Mr. Kean is a graduate of Princeton and earned his master's degree from Columbia University Teachers College.
Lee Hamilton is president and director of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. For 34 years, Mr. Hamilton represented Indiana's 9th district in Congress where he was chairman of the International Relations Committee. He also served on the Hart-Rudman Commission examining US national security. Mr. Hamilton earned his bachelor's degree at DePauw University and received his law degree from Indiana University.
Here are excerpts from their remarks:
On their assessment of how Congress and the White House responded to the 9/11 commission's recommendations:
Kean: "We are disappointed in many ways about what has happened. We think some of the easier things that could be done to make us all safer have not been done," including distributing federal homeland security funds based on risk rather than political factors.
Hamilton: "The overall theme of what we are saying is we just do not see the sense of urgency that we would like to see on the question of homeland security in all levels of government in both the executive and congressional branches."
On what the 9/11 Commission accomplished:
Hamilton: "An awful lot that we recommended has been adopted. If you looked at all of our recommendations with regard to intelligence, they basically have been enacted into law and enacted into law in a remarkably quick period of time. And if you look at the other recommendations, you can see progress on almost all of them...It is not a record we should be totally discouraged about. It is quite possible in the next couple of weeks while Congress is in session," that action may be taken on how funds are allocated and on radio frequencies for use by first responders.
On the fact first responders still cannot communicate easily:
Kean: "Communications - no question that it is still a scandal, an absolute scandal, that police and fire and emergency personnel can't talk to one another. That, again, cost a lot of lives in the hurricane just as it cost lives in 9/11."
On the need to spell out who is in charge in emergencies:
Hamilton: "I think this question of unified command is a very difficult one politically and I don't think you can solve it after the fact. I think you have to reach an agreement beforehand. When you have a disaster or a terrorist attack that affects a multiplicity of jurisdictions, you've got a tough problem on your hands....
When you have a disaster strike, you have to make hundreds and hundreds of decisions very quickly about people and first aid and equipment and all kinds of things.... We have to decide in this country, probably through legislation, and I suspect through federal legislation, although maybe you can do it on a regional basis, how to deal with a disaster before it strikes. Because once it strikes, all of these competitive pressures arise. Everybody in the White House is saying, 'How do I make the president look good here?' And everybody in the state capital is saying, 'How do I make the governor look good?'"
On the challenges Congress faces in responding to security issues:
Hamilton: "I think Congress is an institution under some stress today. And I do not think it is close to performing up to its capacity. I do not think you can argue today that the Congress is a coequal branch of government. It is not. It has basically lost the warmaking power. The real debates on budget occur not in the Congress but in the Office of Management and Budget" in the White House.
On whether some governmental actions to protect homeland security have gone too far:
Kean: "We proposed a civil liberties board in the White House. Unfortunately, although members have been nominated, they have not been confirmed. The civil liberties board hasn't gotten off the drawing board really.... If you were to talk to our fathers and say the United States is debating now whether or not and how much we should torture people, I mean, it is not surprising we get a black eye."
Further details on the new report from Messrs. Kane and Hamilton can be found at www.9-11pdp.org.