House Democrats slam Bush administration for failure to comply with 9/11 act

Key House Democrats on Tuesday criticized the Bush administration for failing to effectively implement recommendations from the 9/11 commission four years after they were first issued, claiming many programs that incorporate information technology are inadequate.

The majority members of the House Homeland Security and Foreign Affairs Committees released a report concluding that the Homeland Security Department has made little progress on several initiatives, including incorporating passenger and cargo screening systems at airports; sharing information on terrorist and other criminal activity through federal, state and regional fusion centers; integrating national biosurveillance efforts; and modernizing the visa waiver program, which uses an electronic system to determine travel eligibility to foreigners visiting the United States. It also criticized DHS for making little use of the National Asset Database for development and implementation of department plans and programs.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Congress chartered the independent, bipartisan 9/11 commission to issue recommendations to help the administration better secure the country against another attack. Many of those proposals, announced in July 2004, were folded into the 2007 Implementing Recommendation of the 9/11 Commission Act, known as the 9/11 act. Among the areas addressed by the legislation were requirements for promoting security of transit systems, ports and borders; information sharing; privacy and civil liberties; emergency response and biosurveillance capabilities and private sector preparedness.

"This … is intended as a wake-up call to the Bush administration," the 52-page report stated. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chairs the Homeland Security Committee, while Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., is chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

The heart of the Democrats' report evaluated the progress of 25 provisions, most containing IT in varying degrees, in the 9/11 commission's recommendations.

None of the report's evaluations was wholly positive, with most of them deemed failures.

The evaluation was in sharp contrast to a fact sheet released by DHS on Wednesday -- the day before the seventh anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks -- which touts "significant progress in protecting the nation." Among other things, DHS noted its ability, as of Aug. 1, to accept voluntary applications for the visa waiver program's electronic system, the transition from two-fingerprint collection to 10-fingerprint collection at select U.S. airports, and broad compliance with the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative's requirement for citizens of the United States, Canada, Mexico and Bermuda to show a passport or other approved document when entering and leaving the United States. DHS also highlighted the publication of the final rule for the 2005 REAL ID Act, which established minimum standards for state-issued driver's licenses and identification cards, and the adoption of E-Verify, a voluntary program that allows employers to use an automated system to vet the employment eligibility of noncitizens.

At least one prominent Republican denounced the Democrats' report. "This report shamefully refuses to acknowledge the hard work of DHS employees and the significant achievements in the war against Islamic terrorism," said Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., the Homeland Security Committee's ranking Republican, in an e-mail. "Moreover, House Democrats fail to acknowledge their own failures and the areas of homeland security they have neglected after their two years in the majority. [T]he release of this inaccurate, sensational report so close to the seventh anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks is absolutely distasteful and the worst kind of political stunt."

The report acknowledged that many of the statutory requirements of the 9/11 act are being met in stages, and will therefore extend into the next administration; however, "for the next president to succeed in implementing this critical law, this president needs to deliver on the commitment he made," it stated.

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