9-11 commissioner focuses on people

The people factor can play a big role in preventing further terrorist attacks, 9-11 commissioner says.

9-11 Commission final report

Focusing on the people, particularly those at the FBI and CIA, can play a big role in preventing future terrorist attacks, one of the members of the 9-11 Commission said last week.

Referring to the CIA, he said that "never has an organization been in more dire a need of [human resources] transformation," said commissioner Tim Roemer during a forum hosted by the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service. He said that on Sept. 11, 2001, only 12 CIA agents spoke Arabic, and that there is still a lack of university graduates with degrees in Arabic who would make suitable candidates for positions at the agency. Roemer said FBI managers have not hired well-trained analysts but rather promoted ill-trained staffers to that level.

The partnership held the forum to rally behind the commission's findings on the "people factor" in preventing terrorist attacks.

"The 9-11 [Commission's] report is the right starting point," said Max Stier, president and chief executive officer of the partnership, who also spoke at the forum. "The tendency is to focus on boxes and not on who's in those boxes. ... We are advocating more attention to the people piece of the equation." Top-level executives and managers should be making more hiring decisions, as their counterparts in well-run private sector businesses do, he added.

During the forum, Roemer, who has 16 years of congressional service, said a new information structure and investment in human resources go hand-in-hand. Partnership members recommended four changes: simplify and shorten the federal hiring process, have senior mangers make more hiring decisions, address the security clearance backlog, and fix the presidential appointment process.

The partnership released a related report that states, "When it comes to filling critical managerial and specialist positions — or mid-career jobs — the federal government has much work to do to attract the best, most experienced talent from the American workforce."

The report's authors agreed with the 9-11 Commission, which said, "The FBI's tradition of hiring analysts from clerical positions within, instead of recruiting individuals with relevant education, background and experience, was one of the reasons the U.S. failed to thwart the [Sept. 11] terror attacks."

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