San Diego Union-Tribune
October 22, 2001
Quest for normalcy appears elusive
Sept. 11 forced profound change on government
By FINLAY LEWIS and TOBY ECKERT
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE
WASHINGTON -- Despite President Bush's recent claim that life in America is returning to normal, a number of decisions by the White House and congressional leaders since the Sept. 11 attacks demonstrate that the war on terrorism continues to affect their activities.
Responding to the terrorist airline hijackings and the more recent anthrax
threats, Bush shortened his trip to China and for a while kept Vice President
Dick Cheney well out of the public eye. The U.S. House of Representatives
temporarily shut down.
Moreover, many experts say the role of government at all levels is being
profoundly and perhaps permanently altered even as it continues to provide
most basic services such as collecting garbage and processing Social Security
"You can't have business as normal because business as normal under these
conditions is not good enough," said Paul Light, a specialist on public
administration and director of governmental studies at the Brookings
Institution. "If we don't have something radical happen in government, I don't
see how we win this battle."
Bush is due to return to work in Washington today after a six-day trip to
attend an economic conference in Shanghai. After terrorist hijackers killed
thousands Sept. 11 by crashing hijacked airliners into New York City's
World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania, the White
House scrubbed stops in Beijing, Japan and South Korea during what was to
have been a two-week, three-nation swing through Asia for Bush.
The attacks spurred a decision to try to foil any subsequent terrorist plots
aimed at killing both Bush and Cheney in one blow by secreting the vice
president at a secure location some distance from Bush. He has rarely
ventured into public view, although in Bush's absence last week he paid a
well-publicized visit to the World Trade Center's rubble.
Meanwhile, an anthrax-laced letter delivered to the offices of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle exposed about 30 Senate employees and police officers to the virus and prompted the House leadership to suspend operations.
The situation seems to have forced Bush into a difficult rhetorical balancing
While exhorting Americans to resume workaday routines, he has mobilized a
massive military operation against Afghanistan's Taliban regime in an effort to
neutralize suspected terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda
network. He has also warned Americans to brace for future terrorist attacks
of an unknown nature.
Presidential scholar Charles O. Jones observed that Bush appears to be
attempting "to provide some assurance that everything is working, and that the events have not had the effect that terrorists want them to have."
But, Jones added, "In reality, clearly anything this dramatic, unprecedented --
a unique event essentially, in American history -- is going to have an effect on
the daily operations of the government. . . . The day before Sept. 11, the
agenda was one thing. The day after, it was something else that no one had
any inkling of."
In addition, Bush's role as a crisis manager also seems to be bringing him into
conflict with his core philosophical beliefs about limiting the size and scope of
the federal government -- a stance that helped to define his candidacy last fall
for the presidency.
In a speech earlier this month to the Senior Executive Service, Bush spoke of
the need to "resist pressure to unwisely expand government." He added,
"Government should be limited, but effective; should do a few things and do
But in rallying the government's resources to deal with the crisis, Bush has
abandoned any pretense of trying to maintain a budget surplus, created a new
White House office to provide homeland security, outlined a stronger federal
role in assuring airport security and pledged to help rebuild the
now-demolished trade center site in lower Manhattan.
So far, state and local governments are reporting few disruptions, though
public safety and health services are being severely taxed by the anthrax
scare. Resources are being diverted to responding to false alarms and hoaxes, which in some cases may be hampering responses to genuine emergencies.
State and local governments have also had their agendas scrambled
somewhat, with more time and money being devoted to security issues. The
need to tighten security at Los Angeles International Airport, for instance, has
nudged aside talk of a major expansion there.
Local officials are turning their attention to the protection of "critical
infrastructure" like dams and power plants.
"Part of what will be interesting to watch in coming months is how the
(federal) Office of Homeland Security works with local governments," said
Jeff Lustgarten, spokesman for the Southern California Association of
Governments. "All of that is going to require a degree of coordination with the federal government."
Meanwhile, experts say that the current emergency deployment of the federal
government's resources may have negative consequences elsewhere in the
bureaucracy such as leaving the FBI with a staff shortage for investigations
unrelated to terrorism.
Noting that government has "a finite head count," Light said he expects the
federal work force, including contract employees, to grow significantly during
the next five years.