Three Cheers for Blue-Ribbon Panels
It is easy to scoff at the prestigious commissions that constantly sprout in Washington as empty exercises in buck passing—until you take stock of all they have accomplished.
A stunning page-one warning led off the January 2001 report of the U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century. The rise of terrorism and unconventional weapons, it said, “will end the relative invulnerability of the U.S. homeland. . . . A direct attack against American citizens on American soil is likely over the next quarter-century.”
Needless to say, the document landed with a thud, barely reported by the news media and largely ignored by the new administration of President George W. Bush. Eight months later, terrorists brought down the twin towers of the World Trade Center. That sad tale seems to confirm yet again the conventional wisdom that blue-ribbon commissions are toothless and expensive political ornaments.
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Jordan Tama is an assistant professor at American University’s School of International Service and a research fellow at the university’s Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies. He served as special assistant to the director of the Woodrow Wilson Center from 1999 to 2002. He is the author of the newly published book Terrorism and National Security Reform: How Commissions Can Drive Change During Crises.more from this author >>