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(Between February and August 2001): President Bush Cancels a Plan to Upgrade the White House’s Emergency Operations Center

Bill Young.Bill Young. [Source: US Congress]President Bush cancels plans to upgrade the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC), a bunker below the White House where numerous government officials will go on September 11 to respond to the terrorist attacks.
Congressman Thinks the Upgrade is Unnecessary and Too Expensive - During the Clinton administration, as part of their efforts to improve the procedures for Continuity of Government, the military and the White House came up with plans for a secret, large-scale upgrade to the PEOC. In the first months of the Bush administration, early in 2001, these plans are shown to Representative Bill Young (R-FL), the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. The intention is for Congress to unofficially approve the funding for the upgrade outside the normal appropriations process, so as to keep the plans secret. Young, though, is unhappy about the project. He thinks it is too expensive and the scenario it is aimed at dealing with too unlikely. He consequently calls Bush directly and complains about it. Bush, although he is unaware that a plan to upgrade the PEOC even exists, agrees to cancel the project. (Graff 2017, pp. 353) Josh Bolten, the White House deputy chief of staff for policy, will later describe the current indifference about the PEOC, commenting that before 9/11, the operations center was “an artifact of the bygone Cold War era and of no particular use to a current White House.” (C-SPAN 10/6/2013)
Cancellation of the Upgrade Means Communications Are Poor on 9/11 - However, on September 11, the PEOC will play a crucial role. That day, numerous government officials will go to it to deal with the attacks. (CNN 9/11/2002; Ridgeway 5/24/2009) Consequently, the failure to upgrade it will apparently limit the government’s ability to respond to the crisis. Vice President Dick Cheney will find that, while he is in the PEOC, his calls to Bush keep dropping off and he will complain that the communications in the operations center are “terrible” (see (Shortly Before 12:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (Clarke 2004, pp. 19)
Center Was Created for Surviving a Nuclear Attack - The PEOC was set up during the Cold War to enable government leaders to survive a nuclear attack on the US. (Mann 2004, pp. 295) Located under the East Wing of the White House, it consists of a main hallway lined with bunk beds, a large operations and communications room, a small executive briefing room, and a main command center. In the middle of the command center is a conference table, long enough for about 16 officials to sit at. A number of drawers around the table hold secure telephones. There is a row of chairs along the wall for support staff and two large television screens are built into the wall closest to the entrance. A locked vault door leads into the PEOC and people have to use a telephone to ask the duty officer inside for permission to enter. (Hayes 2007, pp. 337; Graff 2017, pp. 331-332)
Planned Upgrade Is Reportedly Richard Clarke's Idea - White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke will claim that the plan to upgrade the facility was his idea. When he visits the PEOC around midday on September 11 and Cheney complains to him about the “terrible” communications, he will reply, “Now you know why I wanted the money for a new bunker.” “The president had canceled my plans for a replacement facility,” he will comment in his 2004 book Against All Enemies. (Clarke 2004, pp. 19)


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