9/11 commissioner pushes Congress to act on recommendations

Urging Congress to consider policies that would encourage recruiting and retaining high-caliber talent for the federal government, 9/11 Commissioner Timothy Roemer said Thursday that terrorism will be defeated by quality people, not new organizational charts or wiring diagrams. Speaking at a briefing hosted by the Partnership for Public Service, a Washington nonprofit group working to encourage more Americans to consider federal employment, the former Indiana congressman urged adoption of the commission's 41 recommendations to make sure federal employees have the right equipment to fight terrorism.

"We must invest in people at the CIA, people that speak the language and can penetrate al Qaeda," Roemer said. "[Former CIA Director] George Tenet said it would take five years to reform the CIA, but we don't have five minutes."

While the panel's recommendations on creating a national intelligence director with budget authority and sharing technology and research between agencies have gained a lot of attention from Congress and the media, Roemer said organizational charts intended to make the United States more secure are worthless unless the proper training and investment is made in human resources.

Roemer emphasized five personnel reforms needed in the intelligence agencies:

  • Reform the CIA by hiring more Arabic translators and encourage students to pursue degrees in Arabic.
  • Hire trained and qualified people with expertise as analysts in the FBI.
  • Fix the presidential appointment process so that political positions can be filled with an up or down vote. According to Roemer, on Sept. 11 key positions within the Defense Department and in national security remained vacant awaiting Senate approval.
  • Address the security clearance backlog by establishing an agency that monitors and approves clearances.
  • Change the "stovepipe" nature of the intelligence agencies from a "need to know" to a "need to share" basis.
Roemer also challenged Congress to look at the proposals that involve establishing schools in Muslim countries to counteract the teaching of hatred by Muslim extremists. He said Congress must reform its archaic intelligence oversight system, which was established during the Cold War period.

"If we can't reform Congress, it will be a very difficult facing a fight against one of the most agile and dynamic enemies," Roemer said. "What we need on Capitol Hill, and in the country, is for people to take action on these recommendations. If you don't act on them and the terrorists hit, there is going to be a huge price to pay."

The Partnership recommended similar proposals, including simplifying and shortening the federal hiring process, ensuring that agency leaders take ownership of identifying and developing talent, addressing the security clearance backlog, and fixing the presidential appointment process.

Max Stier, president and CEO of the Partnership, said the primary problem is the inability to keep good people in the right posts. "The 9/11 Commission identified several missed opportunities, and it all comes down to one problem spanning the entire federal government. Government must make it a top priority to get - and keep - the right people in the right jobs, and the proper tools and training to do their very best," Stier said.

While legislation that would enact the recommendations of the 9/11 commission was introduced Tuesday, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., introduced more dramatic reforms last month that included moving sections of the CIA and intelligence agencies controlled by the Defense Department into the control of a new national intelligence director.

Roemer said Roberts' proposal takes very important steps by proposing dramatic reform, creating a national intelligence director and establishing a national counterterrorism center. He said that by proposing to break up the CIA, Roberts' legislation gets people used to the idea of the commission's proposal to rebuilding the CIA.

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