Panel: Federal Anti-Terrorism Efforts Failing

The members of the former Sept. 11 Commission release their final report on the White House and Congress' implementation of the panel's recommendations. The commissioners are highly critical of the federal response — giving many government departments failing grades.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Former members of the 9-11 Commission issued a report card today grading progress on their recommendations to prevent terrorist attacks. The marks for Congress and the administration: lots of C's, D's and F's. The five Democrats and five Republicans from the panel say too little has been done to make the country safer and that there's a lack of urgency about the terrorist threat. Today was the last meeting of panel members, who formed a non-profit group after they officially disbanded last year. NPR's Pam Fessler reports.

PAM FESSLER reporting:

It's not as though nothing has been done over the past few years to make the country safer, but former commission Chairman Tom Kean, a Republican, says it's not enough, especially because terrorists are so intent on striking the United States again.

Former Governor THOMAS KEAN (New Jersey; Former Chair, 9-11 Commission): Look at this report card. There are far too many C's, D's, and F's.

FESSLER: C's when it comes to checking airline passengers for explosives and for screening foreigners who cross US borders. D's for efforts to keep weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of terrorists and for information sharing among government agencies. But it's the F's that the former commissioners said they found the most disturbing.

Mr. KEAN: It's scandalous that airline passengers are still not screened against all names on a terrorist watch list. It is scandalous that we still allocate scarce Homeland Security dollars on the basis of pork barrel spending and not on risk.

FESSLER: The former commissioners say they're especially frustrated that radios used by emergency workers remain incompatible, that police and firefighters still have some of the same communications problems they had on 9/11. Former Illinois Governor Jim Thompson, a Republican, says the country will pay a big price for not learning the painful lessons of that day.

Former Governor JIM THOMPSON (Republican, Illinois; Former Member, 9-11 Commission): After some are killed and some are wounded, how are they going to get the rest of us out of harm's way? How are they going to protect themselves? How are they going to go about their duty? Are we crazy?

FESSLER: But Bush administration officials say they have addressed many of the problems identified by the commission, that steps have been taken to tighten aviation, border and cargo security and to redirect efforts to the highest risk areas. They say they've accepted most of the panel's recommendations, but that others require congressional action. White House counselor Dan Bartlett spoke this morning on the CBS "Early Show."

Mr. DAN BARTLETT (White House Counselor): There are quite a bit of these recommendations that are sitting before the United States Congress, and it's important that Congress act on these recommendations as well. We agree with their assessment. America is safer but yet not safe.

FESSLER: Former Commissioner Jamie Gorelick, who worked in the Clinton Justice Department, dismissed the administration's response.

Ms. JAMIE GORELICK (Former Deputy Attorney General; Democrat; Former Member, 9-11 Commission The problem with that is that saying that a recommendation is accepted and making it happen, as we know, are two very different things. We saw that in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

FESSLER: When it became very clear that there's still great confusion over who's in charge if there's a big disaster. The commission did hand out a few good grades. It gave B's for the creation of a new director of national intelligence and a national counterterrorism center to help coordinate domestic, foreign and military intelligence, although some commissioners complain that the reorganization is going too slowly.

The commissioners also said they'd change one of the F's to an A if Congress acts this month on legislation to direct Homeland Security funds to communities that face the greatest risk of attack. Pam Fessler, NPR News, Washington.

BLOCK: You can read the September 11th Commission's recommendations and see the former members' report card at our Web site, npr.org.

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