A key official of the 9/1 1 commission was asked Monday evening by families of victims why Congress doesn't seem to share their sense of urgency in reforming the nation's security.
Lancaster native Christopher A. Kojm, deputy executive director of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, tried to answer their questions after his talk at Canisius College, which was attended by 200.
Family members expressed concern that Congress will feel even less urgency to pass the commission's recommendations once the election is over two weeks from now.
"My fear is that they won't have the same impetus to do it, because they won't be worried about how the electorate is going to view them -- whether they are considered to be strong on national security," said Kathleen Lynch of Snyder.
Her brother, Michael F. Lynch, was among New York City firefighters killed while trying to rescue others at the World Trade Center. "I think the commission did a terrific job, but so far nothing has been done by Congress," she added.
Other relatives of victims blamed the war in Iraq for the lost impetus in passing reforms.
"We've gotten so far away from the 9/1 1 commission because so many people are caught up in Iraq," said Rosemary Rooney of Buffalo, mother of Sean P. Rooney, who died when the second trade center tower collapsed.
"We have to get back to the reform," she said. "We somehow have to get something concrete done."
"In defense of Congress," Kojm said, "we came out with our report on July 22 and they canceled their six-week recess to address it."
Kojm explained that the Senate and House of Representatives have passed separate bills in response to the commission's recommendations, but the differences haven't been ironed out by a conference committee.
"Conference committees are often a fiction," added former Rep. John J. LaFalce, the host of the lecture. "The president has the responsibility to lead. He could get Republican leaders together to pass a bill if he wanted."
After Kojm outlined in his talk the commission's findings of failures in the nation's security system, a listener asked him whether he thought the 9/1 1 attacks were a necessary wake-up call to reform.
"I hope not," Kojm replied, "but I'm not at all that certain. If you look at our government's responses to the long litany to terrorist acts before 9/1 1, we changed incrementally and in ways that were profoundly insufficient to the threat."
A woman asked whether Osama bin Laden's goal in launching the 9/1 1 attacks was more to instill fear than to kill Americans.
"No," Kojm replied. "Bin Laden's goals were really quite astounding. He thought these attacks would lead to a cataclysm inside the United States, the overthrow of the United States, increasing adherence to Islam. Megalomaniac ideals. But his first principle was to kill Americans."