Remarks by Lee H. Hamilton
Presentation of a Special Achievement Award
To the Staff of the 9/11 Commission
By the American Society of Public Administration
National Capital Area Chapter
April 20, 2005
Thank you, Paul, for your kind introduction. I also want to thank the
Capital Area Chapter of the American Society of Public Administration,
and its president Tish Tucker; Government Executive magazine and its
editor Tim Clark; and IBM Consulting Services for hosting tonight’s
At the outset, I want to acknowledge Governor Tom Kean, who chaired
the 9/11 Commission. He provided outstanding leadership for the
Commission. We worked together very closely. We developed a
strong partnership and friendship. Governor Kean could not be here
today. He is concluding his work as President of Drew University and
so it is a very busy time for him. When the American Society for Public
Administration decides to establish a Hall of Fame for Public Servants,
Tom Kean will be elected on the first ballot.
I am here this evening on behalf of the Chair, but also on behalf of my
fellow Commissioners: Richard Ben-Veniste, Fred Fielding, Jamie
Gorelick, Slade Gorton, Bob Kerrey, John Lehman, Tim Roemer and
Jim Thompson. They are extraordinary Americans of great stature and
accomplishment. We needed all of their diverse talents. At crucial
moments, each Commissioner made an indispensable contribution to
our collective work.
The Commissioners, of course, take responsibility for the content of the
report. Yet, as anyone in this town knows, a Commission is only as
good as its staff.
By and measure, the staff was just exceptional. Several of my fellow
Commissioners told me that in all their years in Washington, they had
never seen a better staff. One Commissioner told Ambassador
Negroponte last week that the 9/11 Commission staff is a national
treasure – and indeed they are.
Under the direction of Executive Director Phil Zelikow, Deputy Director
Chris Kojm, General Counsel Dan Marcus and his Deputy Steve Dunne,
o Reviewed over 2 million pages of documents;
o Conducted over 1200 interviews, including every senior national
security official of the past two Administration; o Traveled and met senior officials in 10 countries; o Prepared 19 days of hearings with over 160 witnesses; o Wrote 19 statements of fact to introduce each of the hearings;
o Drafted 13 chapters of the final report, accompanied by over 1700
o Prepared the 41 recommendations included in the final report.
The Commissioners worked intensively on the final report and
recommendations – and so did the staff.
Every chapter drafted by staff had at least 3 reviews and edits by
Commissioners. The chapters on policy had 6 reviews by
Commissioners. I am not sure we kept track, but there were
probably double that number of editing sessions by the staff. So,
some chapters were reviewed 20 times. These were not quick
read-throughs. Each editing session typically lasted six hours.
The longest, I think, was about 14 hours.
So, the work load was unrelenting. The pressure was intense.
Average work weeks of 60 hours ramped upward to 120 hour
work weeks before we finished. We were probably paying below
the minimum wage when calculated on an hourly basis. Tom and
I ofrent remarked in those closing days that we were fortunate
that we didn’t have lawsuits filed against us!
We asked the staff to do extraordinary things. Time and again, after
lengthy discussions among the Commissioners – and with the
result anything but clear – a Commissioner would say, “Well, the
staff can write it up.” And to my amazement, they did. They met,
and exceeded, our expectations time and time again.
Who made up this remarkable staff?
Tom and I insisted that the staff be professional, non-partisan, and
committed. Before hiring we inquired not about their politics, but
about their competence.
The Commission had a huge, sprawling mandate – everything from
foreign policy and covert action to airline and border security;
everything from communications between the FAA and NORAD
to communications between police and firefighters at the World
The Commission needed talent across many areas of expertise –
and we got it. Every adult, and many children, in America
remember exactly where they were and what they doing when
they heard about the 9/11 attacks. So, just as there was an
outpouring of assistance after 9/11, the Commission, too,
received a flood of resumes from citizens, inside and outside the
government, who wanted to help us with our work.
We had staff who had served in the White House, on the National
Security Council staff, and in the Departments of State, Treasury,
Defense, Justice, and Energy. We had FBI special agents and
CIA officers. We had Congressional staffers and military officers.
We had federal prosecutors and distinguished professors. We
had budget analysts and investigators. We had some two dozen
We had a former Federal Air Marshal, an NYPD officer, and an
historian whose last assignment had been the Spy Museum
We had an immigration inspector and a private eye who had been a
We had a CIA officer whose last assignment for the previous 15
months had been running operations in Afghanistan.
We had a former Deputy Director for Intelligence at the CIA.
We had a former Attorney General of New Jersey, and a sitting
Deputy Attorney General of the State of New York.
In many cases, staff connections to 9/11 were wrenching, and
One of our family liaison officers, Ellie Hartz, lost her husband on
9/11. The other, Emily Walker, had been able to escape safely
from WTC Building Seven.
Two other staff in our New York office lost family and loved ones.
One of our staffers, Kevin Shaeffer – who is with us tonight – had
been working at the Naval Command Center in the Pentagon the
morning of September 11
th, tracking events unfolding in New
York. When Flight 77 struck the Pentagon, everyone in his
section was killed. Kevin nearly died, and signed his military
retirement papers to improve benefits for his family. Kevin
survived, and underwent months of rehabilitation and skin grafts.
His first day on the job with us was March 11, 2003 eighteen
months after the attack. He was hired to work on the review of the
emergency response in New York, and the emergency response
at the Pentagon that had saved his life. He signs all of his e-mails:
“Never Forget.” His dedication to the work of the Commission
inspired us all.
What exactly did the Commission and its staff accomplish? Did we
fulfill our purpose?
Basically, we had two tasks:
??First, to tell the story of 9/11: the facts and circumstances
surrounding the attacks of September 11;
??Second, to make recommendations, to make our country safer
and more secure.
Telling the Story. As to the first question, we fulfilled our task. We told the
story of September 11th. We had unparalleled access to documents and to witnesses. We placed an unprecedented amount of classified
material into the public record. We told the story of the hijackers. We
told stories of covert actions. We cited missed opportunities to disrupt
the plot. We corrected false stories about FAA and NORAD on the
thmorning of September 11. We put to rest many theories of
conspiracy. We told stories of heroism, on Flight 93 and in the Towers
of the World Trade Center.
We do not know what future evidence historians will uncover. But we
know that we saw every document we asked for. We believe that
future accounts of 9/11 will build on the one we have written.
Surely, for the present, the 9/11 Commission Report -- which for a while
was keeping pace with Harry Potter in book sales -- is the definitive
account of 9/11.
Making recommendations. We made 41 recommendations. Congress has acted on a number of them, most notably the intelligence reform act
signed into law by the President in December.
That law created, as we recommended, a Director of National
Intelligence, a National Counterterrorism Center, and a Privacy and
Civil Liberties Board. It carried out several of our border and
transportation security recommendations. It spoke favorably, if not
substantively, about several of our recommendations in “sense of Congress” language. Much, however, remains to be done.
No law is self-executing. We will need to pay close attention and monitor the creation of new institutions in the Intelligence Community,
and the implementation of the statute.
Our chief disappointment was failing to persuade the Congress to reform its own institutions. We proposed, and Congress and the
President created, strong authorities in the Executive branch. But we
also need strong authorities in the Congress to serve as a check and
balance on the Executive. Power, wherever located, must be checked.
Congress needs to conduct robust oversight, as a watchdog and a
partner in helping the President carry out reform.
Congress has too much overlapping jurisdiction. Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff has to report to some four score
committees and subcommittees. When you report to eighty bosses,
you cannot possibly get consistent guidance and direction.
Because of overlapping jurisdiction, the intelligence and homeland security committees are weak. They need exclusive
jurisdiction. Only strong committees can perform effective oversight.
We believe that there can be strong and effective oversight of intelligence and homeland security in the Congress if the responsibility
in each case rests with four – not four score – committees. There
should be two authorization committees, one in the House and one in
the Senate, and two appropriations subcommittees, one in the House
and one in the Senate, for intelligence and homeland security
Several other of our recommendations still require action.
We believe there should be homeland security funding formulas based on threat and risk, not based on general revenue sharing.
We believe that first responders must have reliable communications systems. Public safety should have priority access to
the broadcast spectrum.
We believe there needs to be more focus on the Commission’s recommendations on:
o foreign policy;
o public diplomacy initiatives on broadcasting and educational
o and non-proliferation, especially support for the Cooperative
Threat Reduction program, to keep nuclear materials out of the
hands of terrorists.
Why Public Service
But we are here tonight, not to exhaustively review the work of the
9/11 Commission, but to honor a remarkable set of men and women
who labored mightily, with great dedication, and set the gold standard
for all future Commissions.
Everyone whom we honor tonight – and everyone in this room -
understands the many dispiriting aspects of public life. All the political
posturing, the sniping and scramble to claim credit for good things – or
to avoid blame for bad – and the constant maneuvering for partisan
advantage can become disheartening. And for putting up with all of this,
each of you got paid less than you could make in the private sector.
Yet despite it all, each staff member sought out the opportunity to
work for the Commission. Each was chosen because he or she was
very good at what they do and each performed with distinction.
Some of it, of course, satisfied the ego. When the Commission
spoke, people listened. That is very satisfying in a town full of people
that want to be heard.
Yet most of you, I think, were truly motivated by the belief that, as
hard as it is, you could do something to enhance the quality of lives of
You shared the view, I think, that our days are for something more
than making money and having a good time, although there is nothing
wrong with either of those. You believed that we have obligations that
extend beyond ourselves. You believed that public service is a
stimulating, proud and lively enterprise, and that its call is one of the
highest you will hear or the country can make.
Then, too, it was all pretty exciting – and fascinating. Part of the
challenge of public service is the sheer excitement of wrestling with the
great public policy challenges of the day. Telling the story, and
examining the multiple policy issues, attracted you.
You had a pervasive sense that you were sorting out a
momentous event in the history of this country.
You deemed it an opportunity, indeed even a privilege, to struggle
over the issues that aroused the passions of this country’s founding
generation. How should we provide for the common defense? How
much power should the Executive be given? How should powers be
separated among the branches? How do we resolve the tension
between individual liberty and security? What role should our country
play in the world?
So I salute each of you for the vital role that you played on the
Commission, and for your service to your fellow Americans.
You made a contribution to the success and future direction of
this country. I trust you felt that by working on the Commission you were
given and you seized the unique opportunity to make a difference in the
lives of people and the great affairs of this nation.
I would wager that no matter where your career takes you from
the Commission – and I wish each on of you much success and good fortune in the years ahead – you will look back on this moment of public
service as one of the most rewarding, if not the most rewarding, of your
career. One day you will you say to your children or grandchildren, “this was my finest hour.”
The work was hard, the monetary reward modest, and apart from
tonight, recognition for each of you has been scant. But your reward
comes from a deeply felt feeling of satisfaction that you made a
distinctive contribution to the common good and our American
democracy. What more could you want?
May I now recognize and call upon Dan Marcus, General Counsel,
to accept this Special Achievement Award on behalf of the staff of the