9/11 bill plugs holes

The 9/11 Commission bill passed July 27 attempts to fix vulnerabilities remaining since the 2001 terrorist attacks nearly six years ago. The bill, the Implementing the 9/11 Commission Recommendations Act of 2007, had been a priority of Democrats since they took control of Congress in November 2006.

Both the House and Senate passed the legislation last week, and the bill is awaiting President Bush’s signature.

The 206-page bill establishes a grant program in the Homeland Security Department to improve emergency communications capabilities of first responders. It authorizes grant funding to reach $1.3 billion by 2012. The bill also encourages the department to improve information sharing with state, local and tribal governments.

“I am pleased that the Senate has passed this conference report, which contains important provisions to enhance our nation’s security,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. She said the bill would provide a stable, balanced formula for state homeland security grants, strengthen interoperable communications.

The bill also instructs DHS to create an Office of the Undersecretary for Intelligence and Analysis to support and implement the intelligence mission of the department.

Jim Lewis, director of the Technology and Public Policy Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that provision tries to solve problems by renaming positions.

Other policy experts said the bill misses the mark in several areas.

“The last six months, Congress took a step sideways, and this bill is another two steps back,” said James Carafano, a homeland security expert at the Heritage Foundation in Washington. “The bill is lacking real strategic vision. Congress is trying to micro-manage through legislation. They still don’t have consolidated oversight over DHS.”

Lawmakers tried to address those concerns by mandating more internal oversight of DHS. For instance, the bill gives more authority to the president’s advisory Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. The board must submit at least two reports a year to Congress and the president that “analyze and review actions the executive branch takes to protect the nation from terrorism” and to ensure that liberty and privacy concerns are appropriately considered in those actions.

“People are concerned privacy will be abused,” Lewis said.

The bill also calls for the creation of an Interagency Threat Assessment and Coordination Group. Within the group, an advisory council would set policy and develop procedures for sharing information related to homeland security, terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.

Another provision in the bill calls for credentialing first responders and law enforcement officers.

Chandler is an intern at the 1105 Government Information Group.

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