GOP blocks NIST 9/11 safety recommendations

After a vulnerability assessment a company has a list of gaps and issues to fix. Sometimes, a company will complain that it can not afford to close gaps and would rather run the risk of loss, or find a way to transfer the liability. This becomes more complicated if the harm actually impacts someone else. In other words a company’s failure to fix things actually puts others at risk, so their incentive involves a number of external factors.

Representatives of those most affected have to represent themselves through governance to pressure a company, otherwise the company may ignore the damage they cause. PCI, for example, has created a rule that says all medium and high vulnerabilities must be mitigated or a company will lose its license to handle the payment card information of consumers. Before that rule existed, it was unusual for companies to feel any pressure to fix even known and high-risk gaps that could harm its customers.

After the 9/11 attack on the twin towers, no one disputed that a number of control failures were at fault. Many of us have seen changes in airport security mandated by the government as a result, as the government has tried to give the public the impression that it is making changes to improve safety. However, while the airport security has had questionable results, investment in building safety clearly would have saved lives.

An independent report by NIST showed that the towers could have had more stairwells or fireproofing. Those are just two important considerations now in front of the International Code Council (ICC) regarding building safety code regulations.

The Bush Administration has decided to block 9/11 safety upgrades.

Next Thursday the 18th ICC will vote on the safety recommendations. The comprehensive post-9/11 report by NIST was intended to improve safety codes to protect buildings and save lives.

Yet, the Bush administration has dismissed the NIST recommendations and now is failing to fairly represent the security and safety needs of Americans.

On September 8th, the New York Times reported that the General Services Administration — the federal agency that manages property for the government — opposes new safety standards because of cost. The group of building owners refuses to agree to even simple measures such as glow-in-the-dark stairwell markings to help evacuate people safely because of “the bigger question…at what economic cost to society?”

“It is unbelievable to me that our tax dollars are being spent to fight safety improvements,” Glenn Corbett of John Jay College in New York City told the newspaper. “They are trying to subvert necessary change.”

The “society” the GSA is referring to is actually just landlord and development corporations. They are worried that costs to these wealthy groups could impact contributions to Republican candidates.

This is a case where governance is failing to serve the group it is meant to protect. Instead of reducing harm and closing security gaps, the GOP appears to work primarily to protect the income of those who will line their pocketbooks, fund lobbyists and contribute to their election campaigns. And then they have the nerve to shrewdly and ironically call this a matter of “saving money”.

Why do I make this into a GOP issue? You may recall that the GSA has already been in hot water over their partisan relationship with Republican candidates in 2008:

On Monday, The Washington Post reported that an assistant to White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove briefed GSA political appointees on polling data during a January teleconference in which Doan also discussed how GSA could help 2008 Republican candidates. The participation of the official, Scott Jennings, the White House deputy director of political affairs, could strengthen previously reported charges that the call violated the Hatch Act, which outlaws federal employees from using their positions for partisan political purposes.

In Kansas we would say that the foxes are now guarding the hen-house. When you look at McCain’s lobbyist connections, it makes me wonder if Americans will elect another another fox into their hen-house this November?

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