In a recent CQ article, former Secretary of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge, weighed in about congressional oversight of homeland security. Congressional oversight of homeland security may sound as exciting as a colonoscopy, but it is actually a very big problem. Currently, over 100 committees and subcommittees have jurisdiction over the Department of Homeland Security. As you can guess, Members of Congress use this as a political tool—holding hearings completely unrelated to actual security and many times making unreasonable or uneducated requests of the department. All of this undoubtedly distracts DHS from doing their actual job, i.e. protecting the nation against credible threats.
Secretary Ridge has weighed in on this issue before—much like his successors Micheal Chertoff and now Janet Napolitano. So it is not a new issue—in fact, almost all of the congressional leadership on homeland security has labeled it as a significant problem. It was even a principal recommendation of the 9/11 Commission. Heritage has repeatedly pounded the drum on the topic, pushing Congress to consolidate and remove the pork barrel politics from congressional oversight. In fact, it has been repeatedly interwoven in almost all of our homeland security work, because this issue affects the way DHS fulfills its missions and failure to undertake these reforms has undoubtedly made Americans less secure.
What is important now, however, is getting Congress to make necessary reforms. It won’t be easy—Members of Congress like having power over the department and aren’t likely to cede jurisdiction willingly. It will have to come from the top, but with a new Congress on the horizon, the timing seams right for something to move on this issue. As Dave Olive points out in his blog on the topic, “No matter which party controls the next Congress, Democrats and Republicans need to keep this issue in the forefront as they organize next year’s session. It is time for action to resolve this debacle.”