Comparing costs

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We've often read comparisons between the funding of the 9/11 Commission and other major inquiries, which appear to make a case that the Commission didn't have nearly enough money to carry out a thorough job. Here are a couple of examples.

But are these figures telling the whole story?


On January 28th 1986 the Space Shuttle Challenger broke apart 73 seconds into its flight. The craft disintegrated over the Atlantic Ocean, resulting in the deaths of its seven crew members.

The resulting investigation was an expensive business, involving many factors. This initial working paper reveals an important detail:

An estimated $30 to $50 million on salvage alone? It's clear that the Challenger investigation involved huge costs that simply didn't apply to the 9/11 Commission, and so to make a fair comparison we would have to strip those out.

So, revealing that "$75 million was allocated for the 1986 Challenger disaster investigation" doesn't provide the information we need to know. How much of that was spent, and how much on a secondary investigation comparable to the 9/11 Commission: interviewing people and assembling data, not retrieving the craft or reengineering technology? We need a breakdown of the final costs and what was involved before we can determine how useful a comparison this might be.


On February 1st 2003 the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated over Texas during re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere, resulting in the deaths of its seven crew members.

Headlines did indeed say the resulting investigation was allocated $50 million, but once again it's important to read the details (our emphasis):

This money is to include "costs related to correcting problems with the shuttle or pay other unforeseen costs", then - it's far more than 9/11 Commission-style travelling, interviews, meetings and hearings.

There was a Columbia Accident Investigation Board created, though, that might provide a more reasonable comparison with the Commission. They were audited by the Office of the Inspector General, whose final report on them said:

There may have been some additional costs after this, but then again the CAIB were more involved in primary investigations, as Spaceflight Now reported:

The CAIB had considerably less people than the 9/11 Commission, and worked for a much shorter time. They did some similar activities, but were also involved in primary investigations in a way that didn't apply to the Commission. So can we say conclusively that they were significantly better funded? Not really: it all depends on what they were doing, and how much was spent on things like overseeing "debris recovery efforts... that involved more than 25,000 searchers". There's not enough information here to draw any firm conclusions.


Our original claim suggested that $40 million was spent investigating the Clinton-Lewinsky affair. True? Here's one report:

$47 million is the closest figure we have here, but that's expenses for the complete five-year investigation to that point, which was into far more than Lewinsky.

(Note also that Starr's figures included "$1.5 million for costs of U.S. Marshals Service, FBI and Justice Department employees detailed to Starr's office". Did the 9/11 Commission have significant assistance from employees of other agencies, and if so, does the budget cover their costs? If not, then just like the Space Shuttle investigations, this figure is including costs that don't appear in the 9/11 Commission figures, making it a poor comparison.)

Is there a figure that relates to the Lewinsky aspect of the investigation alone? Yes: or, at least, an estimate.

The actual figure will be higher than the $4.4 million detailed here, then, but it's not going to reach the $40 million in our original claim.

9/11 Commission

How much did the 9/11 Commission cost? The Commission's "Frequently Asked Questions" page provides some information:

We'd have preferred a final figure, but this will do for the moment: $15 million.

Of course this wasn't the only Government funding that went into investigating 9/11. There was the Joint Inquiry in 2002, $600,000 for the ACSE reports on building performance. Then there's also NIST, who say they "received $16 million for the investigation in September 2002 from the fiscal year 2002 supplemental appropriation" (source) for the initial investigation. We've read talk of additional funding later or another $2 million, perhaps more, and presumably the WTC7 investigation required further investments.

If we were to add the primary investigation, for example the FBI's PENTTBOM, then that would add considerably more:

And an OIG report revealed that FBI agents and support staff had spent almost 4 million hours on the investigation by June of 2002.


If someone were to say, then, that the initial 9/11 Commission allocation of $3 million was a joke, because it was less than the cost of investigating Clinton/ Lewinsky, then we'd have to agree.

Unfortunately few people stop there, instead resorting to dubious comparisons that overestimate the cost of earlier investigations and minimise the amount of money spent on investigating 9/11.

So while there's the kernel of a reasonable point here, grossly misleading lists like those at the top of the page do nothing to illuminate it: you don't find the truth by making things up.