Testimony of Beverly Eckert
Before the U.S. House of Representatives
Committee on Government Reform
Hearings to Review 9/11 Commission Recommendations
Tuesday, August 3, 2004
Honorable Chairman Davis, Distinguished Members of this Committee, ladies and gentlemen:
My name is Beverly Eckert. I’m appearing here today as a member
of the 9/11 Commission’s Family Steering Committee. We appreciate
the opportunity you have given us to participate in this hearing.
It is both a privilege and a responsibility. We also extend our
thanks to the 9/11 Commissioners and staff, whose tireless work
and cogent recommendations are the focus of today’s hearing.
But most of all, we thank the American people for their interest
and support of this process. Hundreds of thousands have purchased
the Commission’s report. Tens of millions have accessed the Commission’s
website, to read for themselves the summary of what went wrong on
September 11th, and what we need to do as a nation to correct those
failings. Millions more will watch these hearings.
Those astonishing numbers make it very clear that it can no
longer be “business as usual” in Washington. This Committee’s
presence here today is testament to that. There is no recess from
terrorism. Because of the transparent way the Commission operated
and the accessibility of their report in bookstores and on the
Internet, ordinary citizens are now well-informed about the
failures of our national security apparatus. And they are
engaging in the much-needed debate about how our government
must change so that those failures never happen again. This
is democracy- alive, and at work.
Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee, the roadmap is
in front of you. There are 41 recommendations contained in
the 9/11 Commission’s report. Neither the Family Steering Committee
nor the American people will let these recommendations suffer the
same fate as those of past Commissions. There is no shelf on which
they can be hidden. You, and the rest of Congress, are very much
in the spotlight, and will be held accountable for your actions-
or inaction, as will the White House. Elected officials who
obstruct passage of these recommendations will have to answer
to their constituents. To help this oversight- the people’s
oversight- the Family Steering Committee will make the progress
of legislation, Executive Orders and agency initiatives available
on our website. We will list Co-Sponsors on bills, as well as
who voted ‘for’ or ‘against’. Our hope is that legislation
will be passed by unanimous consent after expedited hearings
before the end of this year.
As this process moves forward, we challenge you-
election year notwithstanding - to resist the pressure
from lobbyists who oppose reforms that add costs to
their clients’ operations. We respectfully require
that every bill dealing with these recommendations
mandate specific implementation steps and timetables
and avoid the delays that characterize the regulatory
route. The families who worked so hard for aviation
safety improvements after the Lockerbie tragedy in
1988 understand this need all too well.
We also require language in each bill that addresses
funding, and that appropriations promptly follow. We
respectfully require that the bills submitted to
Congress be unencumbered by amendments - the ‘pork’
that so often is associated with controversial
legislation. Lastly, we challenge the House and
Senate to work together to draft complimentary bills,
so that there will be no need for conferencing behind
The reforms needed to build a more secure nation must not
be derailed. Nearly three years have passed since our
nation’s security was catastrophically breached. Because
of partisan gridlock and bureaucratic intransigence, far
too little has been done since then to make us safer. During
the 9/11 hearings, we heard from agency after agency that
corrective measures had been implemented, only to learn from
incidents reported in the news that security lapses are still
The Commission report speaks of a “failure of imagination” in
Washington - a failure to understand the threat of terrorism
and respond to it. Going forward, we need government officials
who do have imagination - who can implement legislation that
is creative, responsive and capable of addressing the challenges
and threats of the 21st century. A National Counter-Terrorism
Center, and a Director of National Intelligence at the helm
with ‘the power of the purse’, is at the heart of the Commission’s
recommendations. Yesterday the President announced his support
for these 2 recommendations and also indicated the DNI would have
the necessary budget control. This is a critical element. If it
doesn’t extend to the Defense Department’s non-military intelligence
operations, the effectiveness of the DNI will be largely undermined.
Be assured we will be monitoring this important aspect.
The report identifies Congress itself as being dysfunctional.
We therefore call upon each of you to have the courage to be part
of the solution, and embrace fundamental change in the way the
Congressional committee oversight system operates.
As in the days preceding the 9/11 attacks, the threat level
now is high. This Committee, Congress and the President must
act with great urgency. Upcoming elections must not overshadow
these initiatives. These recommendations require your undivided
attention. The American people will accept nothing less. And
whatever the outcome in November, we expect that you, our
representatives, will use your full terms of office productively.
We can ill-afford a ‘lame duck’ attitude to legislation at this
critical time. We fully support a special session of Congress
to ensure that the momentum generated by these hearings will
My husband Sean was trapped in the South Tower of the World Trade
Center on September 11th but was able to reach me by phone. When
the smoke and flames drew near and Sean knew he was going to die,
he remained calm, speaking of his love for me and for his family.
I will forever be in awe of the way he faced those final moments.
In the days that followed, I felt somehow infused with his courage
and strength, and that helped me persevere through the difficult
months that followed. So many other family members were similarly
inspired. Despite our private anguish, we shared a goal- to make
this country safer so that the deaths of 3,000 people would not be
Too many of us lost someone we cherished on September 11th.
Too many of us also lost our faith in a government we had blindly
trusted to protect the people we loved. After September 11th, the
country reached out to the families and asked what they could do
to help us heal. We now have an answer: “Help us make these
recommendations happen”. And our question to Congress, the
President and this Committee is: “Are you willing to implement
reforms, before this year is ended, and thereby restore our nation’s
faith in its government?”
The anniversary of September 11th approaches. What better way to honor
the memory of those who perished than by enacting legislation this year
which ensures that no other family member has to experience what we have
I hope I never see the day when another widow has to walk in my shoes.
The time to act is now.
Beverly Eckert,Family Steering Committee for the 911/ Commission