A Score-Card Agenda for Capitol Hill

Specific details of President Bush’s fiscal year 2007 budget recommendations to Congress will not be known until late January or early February, but it already seems likely: (1) that no major increases in Department of Defense (DOD) spending will be requested by the president; but (2) that several well-targeted add-ons to various Department of Homeland Security (DHS) appropriations accounts not only will be included in the administration’s budget plan but also will be quickly approved by both the House and the Senate—with few dissenting votes from either party. It would not be surprising, in fact, if, on its own initiative, Congress were to add a few billion dollars extra to the president’s DHS budget request. It can be safely assumed at this time that the president will recommend adequate funding for DOD, but not much more, and that Congress will be inclined, particularly in an election year, to fully approve the commander in chief’s recommendation—but to add little if any additional funding beyond what is requested. Major cutbacks in any of the DOD accounts are unlikely, if only because American troops are still heavily engaged in combat operations against Iraqi (and imported) insurgents, and a strong U.S. presence in Iraq probably will be needed for the foreseeable future. Nonetheless, the White House and the Pentagon seem increasingly determined to fully implement the president’s previously announced plan to make Iraq’s new government responsible for Iraqi security just as soon as possible. There is virtually no chance for a total withdrawal of U.S. forces this year, therefore, but there is a strong probability that several incremental withdrawals of perhaps 10,000 troops or so at a time will be approved as a calculated risk. New insurgent attacks of any significant magnitude, though, would put additional withdrawals on hold. A Helpful Increase in Public Awareness On the U.S. home front, meanwhile, pressures to provide additional funding for homeland defense have been quietly building—partly because of the horrendous loss of lives caused by last year’s tsunami in the far western Pacific, and partly because of the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina and by other natural disasters. Mostly, though, because the American people, and the nation’s political leaders, are now somewhat more aware than they were before that the United States itself is extremely vulnerable not only to violent attacks from Mother Nature—earthquakes and forest fires as well as hurricanes and tornadoes—but also to additional terrorist attacks. If they involved dirty bombs or other weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), the latter could cause incalculable economic and psychological damage as well as the loss of thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of lives. Much of the credit for the new public awareness of America’s homeland insecurity goes to the above-and-beyond efforts of the 9/11 Commission—which, after delivering a meticulously detailed “Final Report” 18 months ago on the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks against the United States, followed up last month with a second Final Report that graded both the Bush administration and both houses of Congress on their efforts to date to improve the nation’s homeland security.  The second Report was not an “authorized” report of the Commission itself but, rather, a report issued by a private organization, “The 9/11 Public Discourse Project” (PDP)—which the ten members of the 9/11 Commission (five Republicans and five Democrats) had formed on their own: officially, “to educate the American people” about the 41 major recommendations included in the first Final Report; unofficially, to generate the media and public pressure needed to persuade the legislative and executive branches of government to implement the Commission’s 41 recommendations as fully as possible and as soon as possible. Numerous Failures, and a Major Embarrassment To their credit, the PDP members did not point the finger of blame at any specific individuals, but they made it clear—by the issuance of 17 failing or near-failing grades– not only that DHS itself and several of the agencies under its jurisdiction had failed to carry out their responsibilities in a satisfactory manner but also that Congress had been equally derelict by failing to “provide for the common defense,” as required by the Constitution. The PDP Final Report, released early last month (5 December) by 9/11 Commission Chairman Thomas H. Kean and Vice Chairman Lee H. Hamilton (who also chaired and co-chaired the PDP), was devastatingly embarrassing to the Bush administration in general and to the DHS leadership hierarchy in particular, but somewhat less embarrassing to Congress—where, as Kean pointed out, so many committees are responsible for various matters related to homeland security that “nobody [specifically] is responsible.” The PDP report, which was front-page news in most of the nation’s major newspapers and the lead story on the major U.S. television networks, was the subject of numerous outraged editorials and indignant press releases but very quickly receded from the public consciousness. Nonetheless, the Score-Card grades have been the subject of serious study ever since—at DHS and in other executive-branch agencies, on Capitol Hill, and in many of the better-known think tanks in the nation’s capital—and will undoubtedly be restored to life and used many times this year not only for political advantage but also to justify increases (perhaps a few decreases as well) in DHS funding. A Brief List of Possible Changes Specific predictions are difficult to quantify, and frequently are invalidated by unforeseeable events and circumstances. Nonetheless, it seems certain, at the start of the second session of the current Congress, that DHS itself, the Bush administration, and the various congressional committees with jurisdiction over homeland defense, will join forces (reluctantly, perhaps, on some issues) to remedy at least some of the worst failings noted on the PDP Score Card. If so, the end result will be a nation that, again quoting Governor Kean, is “safer … but [still] not as safe as we need to be.” Following is a short summary of the progress likely–on several of the more important PDP recommendations indicated (in boldface)—and brief excerpts (in italics) of the PDP Score-Card grades and relevant comments: Critical infrastructure risks and vulnerability assessment. (Grade: D) “No risk and vulnerability assessments actually made; no national priorities established; … key decisions at least a year away. It is time to stop talking about setting priorities, and actually set some.” Outlook: A strenuous effort will be made to set some priorities and make some decisions. Congress will provide some additional funding in this area. Improvement likely, therefore, but not a lot. Improve airline passenger pre-screening. (Grade: F). “Few improvements have been made to the existing passenger screening system. … Completion of the testing phase of TSA’s [Transportation Security Administration’s] pre-screening program for airline passengers has been delayed.”  Outlook: More funding and strong political pressure will lead to substantive progress and a new grade somewhat above failing. Checked bag and cargo screening. (Grade: D). “Improvements have not been a priority …[for] the Congress or the administration. … The main impediment is inadequate funding.” Outlook: Substantially more funding will be provided. The result will be a B. International collaboration on borders and document security. (Grade: D) “There has been no systematic diplomatic effort to share terrorist watchlists, nor has Congress taken a leadership role in passport security.” Outlook: Congress will take a tougher approach, the State Department will make this a priority issue, and the grade will climb to a C+ or even a B. Deify overall intelligence budget. (Grade: F) “No action has been taken. …Congress cannot do intelligence oversight when funding for intelligence programs is buried within the defense budget.”  Outlook: Some modest changes possible, but a complete change from the previous budget process seems unlikely. Possible improvement to a D grade. Maximum effort by U.S. government to secure WMD. (Grade: D) “Countering the greatest threat to America’s security is still not the top national-security priority of the president and the Congress [emphasis added].” Outlook: The administration would deny the accuracy of this statement, as would many members of Congress. But a greater effort will be made to be more visible in this area, raising the Grade to a C+ or a B. Coalition standards for terrorist detention. (Grade: F) “The United States has not engaged in a common coalition approach to developing standards for detention and prosecution of captured terrorists. Indeed, U.S. treatment of detainees has elicited broad criticism …and makes it harder to cooperate effectively with partners in a global war on terror.”  Outlook: A more robust effort by the administration, but truly substantive changes will be difficult to achieve, and cooperation from other nations is far from guaranteed, so the criticism will continue. No change anticipated in the Grade. Future issues of DPJ will focus on the above and other PDP recommendations in greater detail. Additional information on the PDP Score Card is available from the organization’s website: www.9-11pdp.org
James D. Hessman

James D. Hessman is former editor in chief of both the Navy League’s Sea Power Magazine and the League’s annual Almanac of Seapower. Prior to that dual assignment he was senior editor of Armed Forces Journal International.



No tags to display


Translate »