Experts urge Congress to streamline homeland security oversight


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More than 60 national security experts, including all three former secretaries of homeland security, signed a petition Wednesday calling on Congress to reduce the number of committees with homeland security oversight responsibilities.

Published as a paid advertisement in The Wall Street Journal, the petition argued “the nation is not as secure as it could be” because of the political paralysis resulting from “a tangle of overlapping committees.”

The Department of Homeland Security currently answers to more than 100 congressional committees, subcommittees and other groups that claim oversight responsibilities for the department and its activities.

Reforming congressional oversight of homeland security and reducing the number of committees DHS must answer to was one of the key recommendations of the 9/11 Commission report, issued in 2004. But it is also one of the few recommendations yet to be acted upon by Congress.

By leaving the current oversight structure in place, Congress makes “our nation vulnerable to cyberthreats, biohazards and small boats and planes carrying unknown cargo,” the petition states.

Ronald Marks, a former CIA officer who currently serves as a senior fellow with the Homeland Security Policy Institute at George Washington University, applauded the effort to bring attention to the issue of reforming the congressional oversight structure of homeland security issues.

“There are too many to make for effective oversight of a such a large executive department,” Marks said in an email to FedScoop. “That being said, only the leadership of the Congress can take action to begin the debate over the structure of congressional oversight. Power is not ceded willingly on the Hill. Whoever is removed as oversight will need to be placated in some way. And, facing an election year, it is doubtful the leadership will do much in this session of Congress.”

In a video posted on the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania’s website, former 9/11 Commission Co-Chairman Tom Kean said every recommendation made by the commission is tied to a failure that helped cause the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“So it’s frustrating. It’s frustrating to every single one of us on the commission that this outstanding recommendation is the one that still hasn’t been done,” Kean said.

Caryn Wagner, a signatory to the petition who served as undersecretary for intelligence and analysis at DHS from 2010 to 2012, called the oversight structure in Congress “a huge problem” for DHS.

“Because all of the components of the department existed before [DHS was formed], they had committees of jurisdiction and oversight before,” Wagner said. “And in some cases there’s long histories of committees overseeing parts of the department. They did not want to give that up.”

This paid advertisement appeared in the Wall Street Journal on May 21, 2014, calling on Congress to reduce the number of committees with oversight responsibilities for the Department of Homeland Security. This paid advertisement appeared in The Wall Street Journal on May 21, 2014, calling on Congress to reduce the number of committees with oversight responsibilities for the Department of Homeland Security.

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Annenberg Public Policy Center, Congress, congressional oversight, Cybersecurity, Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Departments, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Government IT News, House of Representatives, Senate, Tech, Transportation Security Administration (TSA), U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement