Two congressional committees hold hearings Tuesday on the recommendations of the independent 9/11 Commission that investigated intelligence and security lapses leading to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States. Members of Congress have been driven by the attention given to the commission's report.
August is the traditional long summertime break for Congress, which normally does not return to work until the first week in September.
This year is different, however, amid a heightened security alert in major metropolitan areas, and President Bush's endorsement of key aspects of the 9/11 Commission report.
House and Senate committees will hold simultaneous hearings Tuesday to examine the recommendations of the report. Two members of the 9/11 Commission, Bob Kerrey and John Lehman, will be among those testifying before the House Government Reform Committee, along with family members of victims of the September 2001 terrorist attacks.
The House committee will also hear from federal intelligence and law enforcement officials, and experts who will provide their views about some of the commission's suggestions for reorganizing the intelligence system.
Over on the Senate side, a similar hearing will include staff members of the 9/11 Commission, and officials of the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Bureau of Investigation and Central Intelligence Agency.
Additional impetus for this flurry of congressional activity came Monday from President Bush, who announced his acceptance of the need for a new national director for intelligence, to be appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.
However, Mr. Bush also took note of the 9/11 Commission recommendation to reorganize the way Congress exercises oversight of government intelligence activities.
"I strongly agree with the commission's recommendation that oversight of intelligence and of the homeland security must be restructured and made more effective," he said. "There are too many committees, with overlapping jurisdiction, which waste time and make it difficult for meaningful oversight and reform."
Additional pressure came from Senator John Kerry, the Democratic party candidate for president, who Monday challenged President Bush to call Congress back into session, so it can act legislatively on the 9-11 Commission recommendations.
"That is what we need to do," he said. "That's the urgency that exists, in order to make America as safe as possible. The terror alert yesterday just underscores that, if we are being serious about this, we have to move on every possible option to make our nation as safe as possible. The time to act is now."
Commission recommendations on oversight of intelligence have caused some nervousness on Capitol Hill, where committees and their chairmen are typically reluctant to relinquish control over key areas of jurisdiction.
With an eye on congressional elections in November, many lawmakers are anxious to reinforce for the public what they see as their key accomplishments that have made Americans safer. One House committee issued a lengthy news release Monday listing numerous bills passed since the attacks occurred. While President Bush's acceptance of the 9/11 Commission proposal for a national intelligence director received bipartisan support, Democrats and Republicans each gave it their own interpretation.
House Democratic Minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, faults President Bush for not acting sooner on a recommendation 18 months ago by a joint congressional panel for a national director of intelligence.
The Republican majority leader, Congressman Tom DeLay, described Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry's call for Congress to hold a special session on the 9/11 Commission report as, in Mr. DeLays words, "opportunistic bluster."
Although House and Senate lawmakers are taking part in hearings in coming weeks on the 9/11 Commission report, Republican leaders have not called either chamber back to session.
Congresswoman Pelosi Monday has urged the Republican speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, to do just that for the House.