Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) and Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-FL) sent a letter to Sec. Chertoff last week inquiring about the status of “118 mandated reports that we believe are overdue or missing.” The letter was highlighted in this Washington Post story on Sunday, which has received a lot of attention in the blogosphere.
“DHS misses deadlines on 118 reports” makes a good soundbite, but I think it’s a bit misleading, for three reasons.
First off, if you look through the list, some of the 118 are duplicative, on the exact same topic. For example, the report on use of non-Coast Guard personnel and the report on Center for Coastal and Maritime Security both appear twice in the list. So there’s a moderate dose of double-counting going on to get to 118. Also, the three reports on the last page aren’t due yet, so you can reduce the number again.
Second, a number of these requests for reports are now obselete, given the fact that DHS has already essentially written them, even if it’s not called the same thing. For example, page 4 of the report notes a request for a “National Maritime Security Transportation Plan for deterring and responding to a transportation incident.” Maybe this specific report isn’t done per se, but the intent of this report has been clearly met, in the form of the National Strategy for Maritime Security and its supporting plans. Given this, why should DHS have to reinvent the wheel and write a new report?
Third, at least a few of these requests for reports are earmarks of sorts – report requests put into legislation at the behest of outside interests who want DHS to pay attention to a given issue or be forced to frame an issue in a certain way. For example, page 22 of the report tasks DHS with compiling a “comprehensive plan for the systematic surveillance of the United States by remotely piloted aircraft.” This sounds like a UAV federal marketing strategy in search of a post-hoc justification to me. To the extent that DHS is ignoring this report request, I think they’re acting appropriately.
Finally, it needs to be asked: given the limited human resource bandwith at DHS headquarters, to what extent does this avalanche of report requests hinder the Department’s ability to execute on its day-to-day responsibilities?
There are many reports among these 118 that are important, which DHS needs to move forward to get to Congress and, to the extent possible, to the general public. Thompson and Meek are absolutely right to publicize this issue and goad DHS into action. But their analysis would be a lot more useful and convincing if it prioritized report requests, and make distinctions between the necessary and the trivial.