Ten years ago today, the House created a 13-member Select Committee on Homeland Security.
The decision seemingly made a good deal of sense. With the memory of 9/11 still fresh, President George W. Bush had begun to call for a Cabinet-level department to carry out the nation’s homeland security mission. The committee would oversee the then-Office of Homeland Security, and later the newly created Department of Homeland Security (DHS), providing guidance and crafting legislation for the U.S. homeland security enterprise.
But all of this would be easier said than done. Or at least, it would get exceedingly more complicated just a few months later.
On November 25, 2002, the new Select Committee on Homeland Security passed the Homeland Security Act of 2002. Among other things, the act originated the Cabinet-level department that the President had set out to create, combining 22 formerly separate government agencies into one integrated DHS.
For Congress, this meant deciding what to do with all the committees that had overseen the formerly separate agencies. Would they all still have a say in homeland security oversight? The answer probably doesn’t come as a surprise. After all, why would each committee and its members want to give up their piece of the homeland security pie? And the problem would only get worse with time.
And not despite warning either. In 2004, the 9/11 Commission recommended that Congress consolidate jurisdiction of homeland security into a “single, principal point of oversight and review.” Still, nothing was done.
Today, 108 congressional committees, subcommittees, and commissions—ranging from Agriculture to Finance to Energy and Commerce—share oversight over DHS, compared to just 36 committees and subcommittees with oversight over the Department of Defense. This confusing and overly burdensome system not only impedes policy but also places conflicting and sometimes duplicative demands on DHS, inhibiting congressional guidance and ultimately progress within the overall homeland security enterprise.
When will enough be enough? Continuing to play politics with the oversight of DHS will do nothing but hinder U.S. security. Instead, the House and Senate should work to streamline and consolidate oversight.
It’s time that Congress show true leadership and do what is right for the nation.