The Magazine

How Do We Know?

The politics of the post-9/11 reforms.

Feb 10, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 21 • By ALVIN S. FELZENBERG
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Not to be missed is Allen’s account of how, after steering the bill through the committee, Chairman Susan Collins successfully fought back crippling floor amendments from powerful senators—a tale of persistence, patience, and hard work trumping perceived clout in the Senate. Over in the House, however, Majority Leader Tom DeLay took the opposite approach to Frist’s. He invited as many as 13 committees to offer suggestions and was open to recommendations the commission had not considered. Armed Services Committee chairman Duncan Hunter proved a skillful opponent to the commission’s primary recommendation. Concerned that the centralization of intelligence posed a threat to the chain of command between combat forces and their military superiors, he secured endorsements for his view from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the commission’s executive director. Meanwhile, Chairman James Sensenbrenner of the Judiciary Committee wanted a federal ban on the issuance of driver’s licenses to undocumented aliens. 

The opposition of Chairmen Hunter and Sensenbrenner, and their capacity to hold committee Republicans behind them, threatened to undermine Speaker Dennis Hastert’s leadership; Hastert’s decision to put the bill on hold until a majority of the majority party endorsed it gave rise to the so-called Hastert Rule. 

With all sides eager to move on, staff at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue finally hammered out a compromise. Not surprisingly, they agreed to language that left it to the White House to issue guidelines for the new director of national intelligence, especially with regard to the chain of command.  With Congress largely out of the picture, what Allen terms “bureaucratic black arts” took over, as interested parties shifted their lobbying efforts to the executive branch. 

It is Allen’s contention that the legislation left things better than they had been before, but only by so much: In the words of Senator Pat Roberts, it was “not the best possible bill, but rather the best bill possible.” 

At the time, National Security Council director Stephen Hadley suggested that, after the legislation had been allowed to work for a while, policymakers “go to the next level of reform.” It is now a decade since Kean and his colleagues pressed their case. With cyber-related security issues commanding increased attention, the safeguarding of classified materials a rising national security concern, and Americans worrying more about protecting their civil liberties, might that time now be at hand?

Alvin S. Felzenberg, former spokesman for the 9/11 Commission, is the author of The Leaders We Deserved and a Few We Didn’t: Rethinking the Presidential Rating Game.