Key government officials are ready to reform congressional oversight of the Department of Homeland Security, something that is long overdue.
Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, has suggested in recent days that he would like to streamline that oversight.
While it may sound strange, the homeland security committees in the House and the Senate aren’t primarily responsible for oversight of the Department of Homeland Security.
When Congress, during the George W. Bush administration, created the new department in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks by pulling together agencies from 22 other departments, each congressional committee kept its oversight authority of those agencies.
Now, McCaul’s committee would like to change that by adding several policy areas to its portfolio including immigration and cybersecurity.
While this may sound like some kind of a congressional turf war, streamlining congressional oversight of the Department of Homeland Security would increase efficiency while providing better oversight, as recommended by the 9/11 Commission.
Roughly 100 congressional committees, subcommittees, and caucuses currently oversee the Department of Homeland Security, a structure McCaul calls “crippling.” Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson also has expressed his unhappiness with the current arrangement, and is encouraging serious reform.
The staggering number of oversight committees, and the frustration this arrangement causes, has had real consequences: Oversight is duplicative or even contradictory; resources are diverted from homeland security to answer the many committees’ questions and demands; and employee morale is extremely low. The situation compromises our nation’s security and takes away from the purpose for which Congress created the department.
In 2014, the Aspen Institute and the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center gathered more than 60 experts, including all prior secretaries of homeland security and think tanks analysts reflecting both sides of the aisle. All of them recommended that the Department of Homeland Security have oversight similar to that of the Department of Defense and Department of Justice.
The Defense Department has a budget of approximately $580.3 billion, much larger than the Homeland Security’s fiscal year 2016 budget of nearly $66.3 billion. Yet it is overseen by only one main committee on both the House and Senate side, Armed Services. Defense appropriations subcommittees and others provide oversight when required.
Congressional jurisdiction should be streamlined to improve oversight and U.S. security. While McCaul’s current proposal does not completely consolidate oversight, it is a step in the right direction that can be built upon later.
Reforming congressional oversight of the Department of Homeland Security is overdue and would enable the agency to focus properly on keeping the U.S. safe and secure.