The Bush administration has missed dozens of deadlines set by Congress for developing ways to protect airplanes, ships,and railways from terrorists, the Associated Press reports. A plan to defend ships and ports from attack is six months overdue. Rules to protect air cargo from infiltration by terrorists are two months late. A study on the cost of giving anti-terrorism training to federal law enforcement officers who fly commercially was supposed to be done more than three years ago. “The incompetence that we recently saw with FEMA’s leadership appears to exist throughout the Homeland Security Department,” said Mississippi Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, top Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee. “Our nation is still vulnerable.”
Congress must share the blame. Lawmakers piled on many deadlines for reports, plans, and regulations while the department, created after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, had to integrate 22 agencies with 170,000 workers and cope with terrorist threats and hurricanes. Deadlines, some for minor projects, distract the department from putting in place the most important security measures, experts say. The Transportation Security Administration scrambled to try to meet a Feb. 15 deadline to ban butane lighters from airplanes, a precaution that does little to protect airliners. Thompson said the government has yet to develop a comprehensive plan to protect roads, bridges, tunnels, power plants, pipelines, and dams. He said a broad plan to protect levies and dams might have helped prevent the New Orleans levies from being breached. The department must submit 256 reports to Congress every year. “There’s a lack of adult leadership on both sides,” said James Carafano of the Heritage Foundation.