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"NPR: House Considers Bill Enacting 9/11 Report Measures"



Friday, January 5, 2007

All Things Considered
House Considers Bill Enacting 9/11 Report Measures
By Pam Fessler 
National Public Radio (NPR)

 
About a year ago, the commission that looked into the Sept. 11 attacks gave
Congress lots of "D"s and "F"s for failing to follow through on its
recommendations. Now, Democrats have a bill they say will complete what the
Republican-controlled Congress left undone. 

Tim Roemer, a member of the commission and a former House Democrat, says he,
for one, is optimistic. 

"Roughly half of the 41 recommendations have been passed and fully
implemented," Roemer says. "That means we're only halfway safer in 2007. And
I think this is a very promising and hopeful start to implement the
remaining 9/11 Commission reforms." 

Tighter Cargo Screening Would Be Required

The House is expected to consider a bill next Tuesday that would, among
other things, strengthen airport security and make it easier for innocent
people to get their names off the "no-fly list." It would increase funding
for emergency communications and change the way Homeland Security grants are
distributed. 

Perhaps most controversially, it would require all passenger airplane cargo
and containers awaiting shipment to U.S. ports to be screened for radiation
and explosives.

"The problem is, it's a very nice idea," says Christopher Koch, president
and CEO of the World Shipping Council. "It's just not very practical."

Koch and others in the industry -- along with many security experts -- think
such a move would be extremely costly and severely impede trade. Koch notes
that the U.S. government has no authority to force foreign governments to
screen U.S.-bound cargo.

"If other countries don't do this, which they certainly don't have to, what
does this legislation call for?" Koch says. "In effect, it calls for an
embargo on the goods Americans are buying from these places, by denying them
the ability to enter the country." 

Sponsors of the measure say it would be more serious if someone were able to
smuggle a dangerous weapon into the United States. The House isn't allowing
amendments during next week's floor debate, but there will almost certainly
be an effort to kill this provision in the Senate.

Oversight Gaps Remain

James Carafano, senior fellow for defense and homeland security at the
Heritage Foundation, has other concerns. He says the House bill fails to do
one of the main things recommended by the 9/11 Commission -- reorganize
Congress so that it can keep better track of the administration.

"I think that's still a problem," Carafano says. "The point of fact is that
the two congressional committees which in the House and the Senate are
responsible for overseeing the Homeland Security Department, don't even have
jurisdiction over all the parts of the departments. I mean, neither one of
the committees has jurisdiction over the Coast Guard."

And that's one of the bigger agencies. Newly elected House Majority Leader
Steny Hoyer on Friday defended that provision in a colloquy with Minority
Whip Roy Blount. Hoyer noted that Republicans weren't eager, either -- when
they were in charge -- to take on powerful committee chairmen by reassigning
their responsibilities. 

"Your side did not implement that particular recommendation," Hoyer said to
Blount. "And the gentleman is correct. We have not implemented the
recommendation as recommended."

More Control Over Intelligence Spending

Instead, House Democrats have come up with what Hoyer called a hybrid
solution. It leaves oversight of Homeland Security as it now stands, spread
among multiple committees. But it does give members of the Intelligence
Committee more control over intelligence spending -- something the 9/11
Commission also said was important.

For its part, the Bush administration says it's already implemented most of
the commission's recommendations, and that more legislation is unnecessary
-- although Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said it might help
in some areas. 

"I welcome having congressional endorsement of the recommendations that
affect our department," Chertoff said.

One of those is to change the formula used to distribute Homeland Security
grants. Chertoff has long pushed to target the money to the highest-risk
areas, something the House bill would do. 

But those efforts have been stymied in the past in the Senate, which is
expected to reshape whatever the House does next week.

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