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9/11 lessons not learned: three failed reforms

Most of the 9/11 commission's recommendations have been implemented, but three reforms, in particular, have failed to fully take shape since 2001.

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In February, President Obama called for $10.7 billion effort to help deploy a national wireless broadband network, including a band of radio spectrum (the D-block) to be set aside for emergency responders. Draft bills are pending in both the House and Senate.

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In a recent report card on the 9/11 commission’s recommendations, co-chairs Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton attributed the delay to “a political fight” over whether the D-block should be allocated directly to public safety or auctioned off to a commercial wireless bidder required to give priority access to public safety during emergencies.

But after the ravages of hurricane Irene, along with the Virginia earthquake and devastating Texas wildfires, public safety groups have stepped up calls for Congress to act.

“As a public safety communications director in coastal Virginia, I can assure you that [the] earthquake and hurricane provide too many real-life examples of why public safety needs this dedicated, nationwide broadband network, and with all due respect to our colleagues in the commercial sector, why our nation’s day-to-day and critical emergency communications cannot rely on the commercial network infrastructure,” Terry Hall, first vice president of the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) said in a statement on Sept. 1.

Intelligence czar impotent

Like many blue-ribbon panels before it, the 9/11 commission proposed integrating the vast US intelligence community. The centerpiece of that reform was to be the creation of a director of national intelligence (DNI), charged with managing the nation’s intelligence program and overseeing the 16 intelligence agencies that produce it. The DNI was to have budget authority, as well as the capacity to hire or fire senior managers and set communitywide standards. Housed in the executive office of the White House with a “relatively small staff,” the DNI would report directly to the president.

After resistance from lawmakers close to the Pentagon, Congress opted to leave the budget for most of the intelligence community in the hands of the secretary of Defense. In effect, Congress created the office, but declined to give it the budget or personnel authority to operate it – a decision that may account for why four DNIs have held the office in only six years.

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