Case #1813.0

Piloting a Bipartisan Ship: Strategies and Tactics of the 9/11 Commission

Publication Date: January 01, 2005
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From December 2002, until July 2004, former New Jersey Governor Thomas Kean and former Indiana Congressman Lee Hamilton led a politically daunting inquiry into one of the most traumatic events in US history--the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. The bipartisan, independent National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States was to determine the facts, and make recommendations forestalling future terror strikes. Kean and Hamilton wanted their report to have a forceful impact on policy and the public--and set out to design a commission which could accomplish that. They faced numerous obstacles: a reluctant--potentially uncooperative--White House, commissioners chosen for their partisan bonafides, unprecedented access to millions of highly classified documents, and a restrictive deadline of 18 months.

Learning Objective:
This case study traces the key decisions Kean, Hamilton, Executive Director Philip Zelikow, and Deputy Director Christopher Kojm made to ensure the commission would meet its goals. The case describes the commission's operational evolution as well as tactical challenges: whether to use subpoenas, when to go public with process problems, how to prevent leaks, how many public hearings to schedule, how to write the report and recommendations. Students will gain an understanding of the role process and staffing can play in achieving policy goals. They will acquire insight into the internal workings of a government inquiry. They can discuss the pros and cons of various strategic instruments in advancing a policy agenda. The case can be used in courses about leadership, political management, national security, or congressional relations.

Other Details

Case Author:
Kirsten Lundberg
Faculty Lead:
Ernest May
Pages (incl. exhibits):
United States
Funding Source:
Center for Public Leadership, the Edmund J. Safra Foundation Center for Ethics, and the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs