Congressional efforts to implement recommendations of the 9/11 commission

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On July 22, 2004, the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (often referred to as the "9/11 commission") issued its final report on the events leading up to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The commission, which was chaired by former New Jersey Governor Thomas H. Kean and former Indiana Rep. Lee H. Hamilton, made several recommendations which they believed would help the U.S. better protect itself from the threat of terrorism. It was not until the 110th Congress that both houses of Congress passed measures intended to implement most of the recommendations. On August 3, 2007, President George W. Bush signed H.R. 1, which implemented many of the recommendations, into law.

Current status

On August 3, 2007, President Bush signed H.R. 1 into law. Previously, there had been multiple measures to implement most of the recommendations of the 9/11 commission, notably in H.R. 1 as well as S.4, which both passed the House and Senate. Differences between the two versions are detailed below.

<USbillinfo congress="110" bill="H.R.1" />

House

On January 9, 2007, the newly-elected Democratic-controlled House of Representatives kicked-off its "first 100 hours," a period for which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) promised to pass six major pieces of legislation.

The first bill that was introduced focused on implementing recommendations originally put forward by the 9/11 commission. Specifically, the bill, introduced by House Committee on Homeland Security Chair Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), included calls to:

  • Scrutinize all air-borne cargo (within three years) and all ship-borne cargo (within five years)
  • Send more federal aid to areas of the country at the greatest risk of a terrorist attack
  • Improve emergency communications
  • Fight nuclear proliferation overseas
  • Strengthen a civil liberties watchdog board

While the measure fell short of implementing all of the remaining commission recommendations (it did not address a call for the reorganization of Congress's oversight of U.S. intelligence agencies), it received support from the heads of the panel. Tom Kean, who served as chair of the commission, praised the bill's efforts to secure areas where radioactive material is stored, while former congressman and vice-chairman of the 9/11 panel Lee Hamilton stated, "If this bill ... is enacted, funded and implemented, then the American people will be safer...We are -- all of us on the 9/11 commission -- deeply pleased that the speaker and the leadership of the House have decided to put this bill forward with the No. 1 designation.[1][2]

On January 10, 2007, the House passed the bill (H.R.1) 299 to 128.

<USvoteinfo year="2007" chamber="house" rollcall="15" />

Senate

Some of these measures were expected to face resistance in the Senate. Just four months prior, a bill containing provisions to inspect every cargo container coming into America had been opposed by 56 senators. Another expected point of contention in the Senate was the price tag, as Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) estimated that the costs for implementing inspections for 100 percent of air cargo alone would cost $3.6 to $6 billion annually. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), however, promised to pass a version of the bill, "that will take steps forward to adopt some of the unadopted, unimplemented or inadequately implemented parts” of the commission's recommendations.[3]

Senate considers bill to implement recommendations

In early March 2007, the Senate began debate on a security bill (S.4) similar to the one passed by the House. The Senate legislation would drop House-passed provisions that would require that all containers on U.S.-bound vessels be screened in foreign ports for radiation, and all cargo loaded onto U.S. airliners be screened for explosives.[4] Like the House version, the Senate bill contained a provision allowing airport screeners (employees of the Transportation Security Administration) to unionize. The Bush administration declared that the president would veto the bill if the provision was included in any bill which reached his desk. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff echoed Bush’s opposition, arguing that unionization would impede the department’s quick response to possible threats. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) promised to help uphold the veto, telling Bush “If the final bill contains such a provision, forcing you to veto it, we pledge to sustain your veto.”[5][6]

The following were the main provisions included in the Senate bill:

  • Seeks to facilitate information sharing between federal, state, local and tribal governments, provides for training in handling that information in regards to national security, privacy and civil liberties. It promotes cooperation of all levels of governments through the improvement of “fusion centers,” where information and all government activities would be coordinated.
  • Would distribute anti-terrorism funds based on the risk potential of a region, state, city, economic sector or infrastructure element such as a power plant or chemical plant. Priorities factors are an eligible metropolitan area (plus military, tourist and commuter densities), general population size and density, a history of threats (prior attacks, home of key infrastructure), degree of threat, vulnerability and consequences of an attack, proximity to international border and coastline and other considerations of metropolitan areas.
  • Would provide grants and ask for solutions to establish statewide or regional communications planning, system design and engineering, procurement and installation, training.
  • Would modernize U.S. visa programs under the concept of enhanced security requirements. It would also free visas to countries that are allies in the war on terrorism.
  • Would establish a Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to review executive actions and ensure privacy concerns are addressed through access to relevant documents from any department or agency.
  • Would direct the Department of Homeland Security to establish and maintain a National Bio-surveillance Integration Center designed to enhance the government’s ability to rapidly identify, characterize, localize and track a biological event of national significance.
  • Would redefine the term “voluntary national preparedness standards” to mean a common set of criteria for preparing for and managing disasters and keeping businesses open.
  • Would create initiatives to better integrate public and private programs towards a national
  • Would develop nationwide qualifications standards for incident management in 6 months and apply them through the entire public / private chain of incident managers. The effort would also create in 90 days a strategic human capital plan to identify human resources for incident management.
  • Would require the DHS to produce a risk-based prioritized list of critical infrastructure and key resources to include assets or systems that the loss of would cause national or regional catastrophe including loss of life, economic harm, mass evacuations and other economic sector damage (within 90 days).
  • Would require the president to report yearly on total spending for intelligence and after each year Congress inform the public of amounts authorized and appropriated.
  • Would expand and develop anti-terror technologies with Israel, Britain, Canada, Australia and Singapore and possibly other nations.
  • Would provide for 100 screening of all air passenger cargo, carried in the hull on by the passenger within three years. 100 terror-sniffing dogs would be added. A blast resistant cargo box would be developed and distributed to airlines. [7]

On March 13, the Senate approved the bill containing the remaining provisions of the 9/11 panel as well as expanded labor rights for more than 45,000 airport screeners. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) criticized the labor provisions stating that the bill "would make the Department of Homeland Security more like the Department of Motor Vehicles". The President has threatened a veto over the labor provisions. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), Chairman Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, stated, "this bill will make the people of America, in an age of terrorism, safer yet than they have been before."[8]

<USvoteinfo year="2007" chamber="senate" rollcall="73" />

Conference

On June 26, 2007, Congress Democrats detailed a plan to push for the passage of a bill implementing terrorism-prevention measures suggested by the 9/11 commission. The goal would be to pass the bill before the July 4 recess, though it was expected that Senate Republicans, led by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), would probably object to the quick consideration necessary for the bill to be sent to the president before the recess. One Democratic House aide commented, "If Sen. McConnell and the Republican leadership in the Senate chose obstruction on this legislation, it serves no one’s interests but the special interests."[9]

On July 17, the House appointed conferees to go to conference with the Senate on the bill.[10]

Articles and Resources

Related SourceWatch articles

Sources

  1. THOMAS: H.R.1, Library of Congress.
  2. "House passes 9/11 security bill," CNN, January 10, 2007.
  3. Spencer S. Hsu, "House Passes Bill to Implement More of 9/11 Panel's Suggestions," Washington Post, January 10, 2007.
  4. "U.S. Senate 9/11 bill seeks more security aid, drops cargo inspection requirements," Associated Press (via International Herald Tribune), February 13, 2007.
  5. Laurie Kellman, "Labor language threatens antiterror bill," Associated Press (via USA Today), Fenruary 27, 2007.
  6. Robert McElroy, "Managing America: War on Terror," TheWeekInCongress, March 2, 2007.
  7. Robert McElroy, " Managing America: War on Terror," TheWeekInCongress, March 7, 2007.
  8. Spencer S. Hsu, "Senate Passes Bill Containing Proposals of 9/11 Panel," Washington Post, March 14, 2007.
  9. Emily Pierce. "Democrats to Push 9/11 Measure Before Recess," Roll Call. June 26, 2007.
  10. Robert McElroy, "House, Senate to conference on 9-11 bill," TheWeekInCongress, July 17, 2007.

External resources

External articles