Some of the Sept. 11 commission’s most glaring warnings about gaps in homeland security continue to be ignored six years after they were hailed as indispensable to the defense against terrorism.
Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, the chairman and vice chairman of the commission, recently reminded the nation of crucial unfinished business. Perhaps most mind-boggling in these days of relentless communications is the continuing inability of first responders to communicate with each other on common radio frequencies. Police officers and firefighters lost their lives in the attack on New York City precisely because of that.
Congress also has failed to improve its oversight of government intelligence by cutting back on the cacophony of 100-plus committees claiming jurisdiction. The risk that a terrorist might unleash toxic clouds endangering hundreds of thousands of lives is nearly as great today as it was before the 2001 attacks.
Instead of adopting strict, mandatory security measures, Congress, so far, has failed even to renew a list of voluntary precautions due to expire in October.
The House passed a measure in November to renew the law but narrowed the categories of companies required to consider safer technologies and report their status to homeland security officials. A companion measure is in the works by Senator Frank Lautenberg, Democrat of New Jersey, but it has not surfaced on the chamber’s priority list as time dwindles. Senate failure to act will roll the issue over to start from scratch in the next Congress.
Some companies, like Clorox, have been exemplary in reducing risks by phasing out chlorine gas with a safer substitute. But most companies have refused to follow. The risks here are too high to ignore. Voluntary compliance is not enough. In addition, the environmental watchdog Greenpeace points out that homeland security safeguards on the nation’s 2,400 drinking water and waste-water treatment plants, many of which use chlorine gas, are exempt from the rules.
The threat of attacks on the homeland is real and present. The nation has gotten lucky twice in recent months when attempts to bring down a plane over Detroit and to explode a bomb in Times Square failed. If that luck runs out, the nation is going to be asking why Washington hasn’t done more. The White House and Congress should be asking those questions, and addressing these gaps, right now. (SOURCE: NEW YORK TIMES)