Ralph Bunche Journal of Public Affairs


In August of 2004, the bipartisan 9/11 Commission released its report to much media buzz. However, when all ten commissioners reconvened in late 2005 to issue a report card on progress made on the recommendations of the Commission, they issued five Fs, twelve Ds, nine Cs, and one A minus. This article looks at independent commissions in the United States and the role they play as flak-catchers—stopgaps that assuage public fears while giving the appearance of decisive government action. It uses historical and comparative case-study analysis to portray how the 9/11 Commission operated in a manner similar to U.S. race riot commissions, despite differences in inception, focus, and jurisdiction. The result for both riot commissions and the 9/11 Commission is a “management” of the crisis rather than an understanding, followed by little in the way of actual policy change. One should expect similar outcomes whenever an independent commission is appointed.



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