9/11 project gets $1 million in pledges

Former panel members create educational group to push suggested reforms

September 19, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - Members of the independent Sept. 11 commission have received pledges of nearly $1 million for a private educational group they have created to push for the enactment of the panel's recommendations, commission officials said Friday.

The educational group, the 9/11 Public Discourse Project, opened an office here last week. It also has a Web site, www.9-11 pdp.org, on which the 10 former commissioners say that the "perils of inaction are far too high - and the strategic value of the commission's findings too important - for the work of the 9/11 commission not to continue."

The commission's final report, issued in July, has created a whirlwind of activity at the White House and on Capitol Hill. A bipartisan group of lawmakers is rushing to complete work on bills that would enact many of the panel's major intelligence recommendations before Election Day.

President Bush has said he supports the central recommendation to establish the position of national intelligence director, and on Thursday he provided Congress with draft legislation to do that. The proposal met with a mixed reception. Some lawmakers said that the plan did not give the director the full range of powers recommended by the Sept. 11 commission, allowing the Pentagon to retain more authority than the panel wanted, and that it restricts the director's hiring and firing of subordinates.

Congressional aides said the proposed bill, which is highly likely to form the outline of legislation that House Republican leaders are drafting, also allowed the government to continue to classify intelligence budgets that the commission wanted to be made public.

John Feehery, a spokesman for House Speaker Dennis Hastert, said in an interview that he believed the White House proposals would probably be incorporated to a large degree in a House bill to be introduced within days.

"Obviously, we've been talking to them extensively," Feehery said, "and I think the proposals are very close."

Officials of the Sept. 11 commission said that the Public Discourse Project had received the pledges of nearly $1 million in recent weeks from a group of foundations and that the donors' identities would be made public after final commitments for the contributions had been received.

"There will be no corporate money," said Al Felzenberg, a spokesman for the commission and the new educational group.

Felzenberg said in an interview that he would be one of the five paid employees of the project, which will be led by Christopher Kojm, the deputy staff director of the Sept. 11 commission and a State Department official in the administrations of President Bill Clinton and the current President Bush.

Kojm will have the title of president, although commission officials said the work of the group would be largely directed by the commission chairman, former Gov. Thomas H. Kean of New Jersey, a Republican, and its vice chairman, former Rep. Lee H. Hamilton of Indiana, a Democrat.

A statement on the Web site said the project intended to remain open for a year and would "undertake a yearlong nationwide public education campaign" to add to "the understanding of American citizens of the nature of the terrorist threat."

"This is a temporary operation to serve the purpose of educating the American public about the recommendations of the commission and to encourage the White House and Congress to implement those recommendations," said Tim Roemer, a former Democratic congressman from Indiana.

Commission members have supported two bills before the Senate, one from the Governmental Affairs Committee that would enact many of the panel's central recommendations, the other a more sweeping bipartisan bill that would enact every major recommendation, including revamping congressional oversight of intelligence.

Roemer, like other commission members, said he was more anxious about the intentions of the House, where Republican leaders have been unwilling to commit to many specific recommendations.

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