One of the most frustrating realities about government is that no matter how much money it gets to deal with a problem, that money usually goes to the wrong places, and the problem rarely gets effectively addressed.
At the national-security level, the dollar figures are so high and the agencies are so large it’s hard for average citizens and even elected officials to see where all the money is being misallocated. Fortunately, some members of the bipartisan Sept. 11 commission, which was founded to analyze security failures that led to the devastating terrorist attacks, are reminding Americans that few of their recommendations have been followed.
Billions of dollars have been spent on national security since 9/11, but the federal government has yet to deal with most of the 41 suggestions included in the 567-page report released in July 2004.
“It’s not a priority for the government right now,” said former commission chairman Thomas Kean, a Republican and former governor of New Jersey. “More than four years after 9/11 … people are not paying attention. God help us if we have another attack.”
Specifically, the commissioners argue that the Transportation Security Administration has yet to consolidate terror-watch databases. They say Congress has yet to enable police and fire agencies to communicate across radio spectrums. They also claim big cities such as New York and Washington have received an inadequate share of the terrorism dollars spread nationwide, according to Associated Press accounts. One news story points to small-town fire agencies that have gotten money and invested in anti-terror equipment but face little risk of an attack, while major landmarks go unprotected.
The former commissioners give the government more F’s than A’s. Despite all the emphasis on prescreening airline passengers, the new report gives the government an F in that area, noting that terrorists can still get through. Intelligence oversight reform gets a D, as does international collaboration on borders and document security.
We don’t agree with all aspects of the original national security report from the commission, but the commissioners are right to note how far the government has to go to comply with these fairly straightforward recommendations. Billions of dollars have been spent, and enormous hassles imposed on airline travelers and others, yet it’s interesting how little actual security might have been improved.
Our fear all along is that the government will squander countless resources and embrace policies that undermine civil liberties with negligible improvement in Americans’ safety. That’s apparently what has been happening. It’s the reality of government processes, and reason for Americans to be skeptical whenever a federal official promises to make us safer by spending more tax dollars.