--------------------------------- NY Times 3/7/2002
Mismanagement Muddled Collapse Inquiry, House Panel Says
By ERIC LIPTON
WASHINGTON, March 6 - Members of Congress today criticized the investigation into the collapse of the World Trade Center, saying it had been mismanaged, far too slow to start and hampered by a lack of cooperation by New York City and other government agencies controlling the disaster site.
"No one is in charge, no one is sure what powers the federal government can exercise, no one is sure of the scope of an investigation," said Representative Sherwood L. Boehlert, a Republican from New York and the House Science Committee's chairman. "And that has to be fixed right away."
Representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other federal officials, who faced the criticism during testimony before the committee today, conceded that the investigation had been plagued by financing problems and confusion over authority almost from the start.
The hearing, the first to be held by Congress on the trade center collapse, concluded with an agreement by Bush administration officials and the committee members that a new entity like the National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates transportation accidents and crashes, is needed to avoid such problems in inquiries into building collapses.
At least $40 million in additional federal aid is also needed to expand the World Trade Center inquiry, the House members said. To date, approximately $600,000 has been invested by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Expanding the inquiry, House members and the leaders of the inquiry said, could help investigators determine whether there were weaknesses in the trade center towers that exist in other skyscrapers.
There is also an urgent need, the investigators and House members agreed, to evaluate the fire-prevention systems in the building as well as the Fire Department's response.
"As engineers, as architects, as builders, as firefighters, as citizens who occupy high-rises, and as those who are in the position to help those citizens, there are critical questions regarding this collapse and they need answering," Glenn P. Corbett, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and an expert on firefighting, testified today. "There are many high-rise structures in the United States and more on the way that demand that we learn from the disaster of 9/11 and apply the lessons learned."
The most intense criticism from both Republican and Democratic House members centered on the confusion over just who is overseeing the investigation - the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the National Institute of Standards and Technology or the American Society of Civil Engineers.
At one point, Representative Anthony D. Weiner, a Democrat from New York City, asked for the official in charge to raise his hand, and two men, and then three appeared to do so. "We have very serious problems here," added Representative John B. Larson, a Connecticut Democrat.
The lack of clear authority has had unfortunate consequences, the House members said. The Giuliani administration started to send World Trade Center steel off to recycling yards before investigators could examine it to determine whether it might hold crucial clues as to why the buildings fell. The full investigative team set up by FEMA was not allowed to enter ground zero to collect other potentially critical evidence in the weeks after the attack, and it did not get a copy of the World Trade Center blueprints until early January, a delay House members found infuriating.
"The delay in the receipt of the plans did somewhat hinder the team's ability to confirm their understanding of the buildings," said Dr. W. Gene Corley, a structural engineer leading the investigative committee organized by FEMA.
A Port Authority spokesman defended the agency, saying that building plans had been given to federal officials within a week of the attack and that the agency was cooperating fully with the inquiry.
The federal officials who testified yesterday - Dr. Arden L. Bement Jr., the director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and Robert F. Shea, the acting administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Insurance and Mitigation Administration - repeatedly nodded their agreement.
In response to criticism from one committee member, Mr. Shea said, "Frankly, I agree with you. There are many things in hindsight we would have done differently."
The problem, they said, was the lack of clear authority in federal law and financing. None of the investigators, for example, had subpoena power, meaning that they could not order the city to stop sending the steel off for recycling or demand a copy of the building blueprints.
The criticism and the admissions by the federal officials brought little relief to the more than two dozen parents, spouses and other relatives of those victims in the Sept. 11 attacks, who filled many of the hearing room seats, some holding photographs of lost loved ones.
"It has been six months, and nobody knows who is responsible for what. It is a disgrace," said Russell Mercer of Queens, whose son-in-law, Scott Kopytko, 32, was a victim.
But the federal officials and leaders from the American Society of Civil Engineers, which is coordinating the initial investigation, all said a great deal remained to be done.
Original Publication Date: 3/7/02