Feds fail homeland security tests

Four years after the 2001 terrorist attacks, the federal government still faces “scandalous” shortcomings in implementing essential homeland security reforms, a new report warns.

President Bush and Congress received D's and F's on a report card for their progress on enacting the recommendations the 9/11 Commission made in its initial July 2004 report, the 9/11 Public Discourse Project stated.

Both the executive and legislative branches have let bureaucratic conflicts, partisan turf wars and recalcitrant agency cultures stymie progress in key areas, including many that rely on information technology, according to the group succeeding the commission.

At its last public meeting Dec. 5, the group gave a final warning: Congress and President Bush must collaborate to enact the group’s unfulfilled recommendations, or continue to recklessly jeopardize national security.

“We believe that the terrorists will strike again,” the report said. “If they do, and these reforms have not been implemented, what will our excuses be?”

The commission made 41 recommendations and the federal government received failing grades on three of the most important areas. Risk-based spending on homeland security got an F, as did screening airline passengers for terrorists and providing radio spectrum for first responders.

Assessing risk and vulnerabilities of critical infrastructure, and screening of checked airline baggage and cargo both earned D's.

The government also earned D's for creating incentives for agencies to share information and improving the quality of information sharing.

However, the news wasn’t all bad: Some of the government’s IT-related actions received adequate grades. Improving airline screening checkpoints’ ability to detect explosives got a C.

The Homeland Security Department’s unified incident command system received a C as well, but the group criticized the government for the system’s weaknesses during Hurricane Katrina.

DHS’ academic all-star was the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) program, which got a B for establishing a working biometric entry-exit screening system at airports, seaports and most land ports.

Runner-up was the government’s efforts to standardize secure identifications through the REAL ID Act, which got a B-. The act makes state IDs acceptable for federal purposes.

The report urged the Senate to pass a pending appropriations bill that would provide homeland security funds based on risk and vulnerability. The House has already passed the bill, which is part of the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001 reauthorization package. One additional senator must vote on the Senate bill for it to pass. If it passes, the government’s grade would rise to an A.

If Congress passes another bill to make spectrum available for first responders, the government’s grade on that issue would rise to a C.

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