So where are all the antiterrorism projects that more than $40 billion in federal money was supposed to fund?
"That's the question that our government contractor members are asking," mused Dan Heinemeier, president of EIA's Government Electronics Industry Association. And these are defense aerospace contractors with marketers paid very well to track money flowing through the federal budgets.
If they can't see the antiterrorism programs coming to light, the commercial electronics industry, which has long given up on Uncle Sam, has far less hope of identifying where the money will be spent.
The week after 9/11 Congress voted an immediate $40 billion ante for antiterrorist activities, half of which was to go to the Pentagon. Untold other billions were requested across federal agencies in the pending Fiscal 2003 federal budget for antiterrorist work.
This only exemplifies the Feds dilemma in reacting to sudden new threats. Congress is very good at throwing big money at any new crisis. The White House and agencies are very poor at coming up with meaningful, effective programs to use the money.
Airport and airline security -- the very concern triggered by the 9/11 attacks -- has been slow to get off the ground. A few airports, such as San Francisco International, are exemplary by having almost total biometric personal identification systems for all secure areas. But numerous General Accounting Office reports and the Department of Transportation's own audits reveal still troubling security gaps in the majority of the nation' s air terminals.
Airlines and passengers are eager for DOT and the FAA to sanction an expedited biometric "trusted traveler" pre-clearance system at airports. Passengers who passed pre-screening checks would get a biometric identification, eitherfingerprint, handprint, facial or eye iris recognition, allowing speedier and more secure gate clearance for flights.
The FAA is proceeding in bureaucratic low gear to implement such a nationwide system. And even if put in place, the trusted passenger clearance wouldn't eliminate the biggest airport delay in intensive screening of carry-on items.
But if increased airport security is just plodding along, there are even bigger antiterrorist gaps all around us.
Sandia National Laboratories, Albuquerque, N.M., a federal weapons R&D center that knows something about national security, warned that the nation's drinking water reservoirs and supply are a sitting duck for terrorist attack. The threat
of biological and chemical attack in the homeland is well known, and not well addressed. Despite the destruction that Timothy McVeigh showed could be done with ammonia nitrate fertilizer and diesel oil, little has been done to restrict or track the easy accessibility of these ingredients.
Perhaps it's just as well the Feds haven't rushed pell-mell into ill-conceived and knee-jerk reaction projects that only succeed in wasting billions. But despite all the rhetoric and almost blank-check funding, the enormity and complexity of the threat seems to have left the Feds groping.
And Commercial Electronics America, after the initial call to arms, is getting more disenchanted by lack of direction and progress. As the economy starts to recover, there is less need to look to the War on Terrorism for quick funding to offset declining market sales.
That's a tragedy, because governments, federal and local, need the unsolicited innovation and advanced technology replete in commercial industry. But when it's a "don't call us, we'll call you" syndrome, the antiterrorism campaign will suffer.