It's hard to believe that everything related to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks will not get the most thorough public scrutiny possible. But the federal investigative committee so reluctantly supported by the White House now seems in danger of being undermined. As the first hearings open in Manhattan today, committee members are chagrined to be going hat in hand to Congress for adequate financing. White House assurances led them to believe needed funds would be included in the supplemental war budget sent to the Capitol last week. But the commission's $11 million request was not there.
Reasonable people might wonder if the White House, having failed in its initial attempt to have Henry Kissinger steer the investigation, may be resorting to budgetary starvation as a tactic to hobble any politically fearless inquiry. The committee's mandate includes scrutiny of intelligence failures and eight other government areas.
The White House vows that in coming budget initiatives there will be no shortchanging of the nation's duty to face the facts of the tragedy. As things now stand, $3 million budgeted as start-up funding could run out this summer. An estimated $14 million is needed for the task of finding out precisely how the attackers were able to pull off their plot in which nearly 3,000 people died. This seems a bargain given the importance of the mission. By comparison, the inquiry into the shuttle disaster's loss of seven lives may cost an estimated $40 million, and the inquiry into the Whitewater controversy ate up more than $30 million.
The nation demands an unflinching 9/11 search. A forthright Congress could easily shake the money loose from the Capitol leadership. Everyone claims to have homeland security as a top priority, but anything less than a robust inquiry will amount to a fresh assault on domestic safety. Tim Roemer, a former congressman and a commission member now buttonholing old colleagues for the missing money, makes the case best: "Facing the facts won't kill us. Not getting them might."