Tuesday, November 28th 2023, 8:48 pm
The 1995 Oklahoma City bombing -- and the 168 deaths it caused -- spurred a government-wide effort to better secure all federal buildings. Now, nearly 29 years later, that effort is getting an important update, and again with Oklahoma's help.
It was on April 20, 1995, the day after Timothy McVeigh was able to drive up and detonate a 4,800-pound fertilizer and fuel oil bomb just feet from the entrance to the Alfred P. Murrah federal building, that then-President Bill Clinton ordered a vulnerability assessment of all federal buildings. Six months later, he signed an executive order creating the Interagency Security Committee.
"That proved to be really important," said Kari Watkins, President and CEO of the Oklahoma City National Memorial in an interview Tuesday.
Watkins says the committee, which has 21 primary members and represents 65 departments and agencies, developed and promulgated new security standards and best practices, while the National Memorial took on an unofficial role: continuing to remind the agencies why the ISC's work was so vitally important -- "keeping the story alive and then bringing the federal agents in for training, and understanding the story," Watkins said.
The story of April 19th hasn't changed, but the government and the sort of threats it faces have, which is why President Biden signed a new executive order Monday superseding Clinton’s 1995 EO. The ISC has been restructured to reflect the fact that responsibility for securing federal buildings now rests, largely, with the Department of Homeland Security, which didn't exist in 1995.
Watkins spoke at the rollout event Monday, challenging agency leaders to bring anyone involved with the ISC to see the memorial. "This is an important place," Watkins stated, "and this is a place where every new federal law enforcement agent should have to visit."
Watkins is not alone in that belief. "Oklahoma City is an incredible example of what we mean by resilience," said the National Security Council's Caitlin Durkovic, "and so it is core to so much of what we do.".
Durkovic currently serves the Biden administration as the NSC's Deputy Homeland Security Advisor for Resilience and Response but chaired the ISC during the Obama administration. She says updating the ISC has been in the works for years and is critically important. "It is in keeping with the dynamic threat environment that we are in," Durkovic said in an interview Tuesday afternoon, "and making sure that we are holding our security officials accountable, but also that they have the resources to go along with it."
Compliance with the ISC's standards was not mandatory for federal agencies before, but is now, under the new presidential action. "Instead of there being, what we call, a soft compliance regime and the standards being optional," Durkovic said, "we are now making it mandatory for departments and agencies to comply with the standards that are set by the Interagency Security Committee.
The agencies will now have to report back to the ISC, giving the committee a fuller understanding of where there are vulnerabilities and how to distribute resources.
It's already known, she says, that the highest levels of compliance with security standards are in the nation's capital. "As you get further beyond the beltway to smaller offices, to the storefronts that interact with the public," Durkovic allowed, "this is where our compliance numbers are lower."
She and Watkins believe the changes to the ISC and the mandatory compliance rules will change that and bring parity across the federal system. "The work they’re doing is remarkable," Watkins said, "and the National Security Council has come together and brought this group together is something we should all be very proud of as Americans."
Both women say there is no doubt the Interagency Security Committee, little known as it may be outside of Washington, is making a positive difference in the lives of Oklahomans and all Americans. "To understand that security is not to be taken for granted," Watkins reminded, "it’s something people work day and night on to make sure what happened in Oklahoma City is not repeated."
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