Congress Daily had a story last Monday that looked at the issue of congressional oversight of homeland security, an issue that I’ve followed closely over the last few years, including my work drafting the CSIS-BENS report “Untangling the Web” in 2004.
The Congress Daily story discusses the state of congressional oversight on homeland security today, quoting many of the key players in the House and the Senate, including the chairs of the Senate and House homeland security committees:
From their vantage point, lawmakers acknowledge the situation is not optimal but say it is working.
“Clearly the situation is much better than it was prior to the 9/11 Commission’s report, but Congress has not completely implemented the recommendations of the commission for complete consolidation of congressional oversight. I think that’s unfortunate,” said Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairwoman Susan Collins, R-Maine.
Collins said she does not believe the situation is a huge problem and has not impeded important legislation. The only bill that has really been affected, she said, is chemical security legislation, on which Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman James Inhofe, R-Okla., has placed a hold.
….House Homeland Security Chairman Peter King, R-N.Y., sees the credibility and oversight authority of his committee growing over time. He said he now has “about 85 percent” of what he needs, adding that the House leadership is siding more and more with his committee.
“I think [oversight is] working relatively well. Better than it has in the last three years,” he said. “It’s a tough business and you’re talking about a lot of entrenched powers,” he added. “To me, we’re establishing ourselves … I’m confident we’re going in the right direction.”
From my vantage point on this issue, the system is working about as well as one could expect in the House, but is still broken in the Senate. Pete King might have 85% of what he needs, but Susan Collins has 50-60% at best. The chemical security legislation, which Collins references, is a prime example of this, and the port security bill only overcame these hurdles because of Dubai Ports World and the electoral necessity for Congress to pass something this year related to homeland security after the border legislation derailed. The Senate homeland committee needs to have primary jurisdiction over the Transportation Security Administration and infrastructure protection issues. And it needs secondary jurisdiction, at the very least, on border security and domestic intelligence (along with Judiciary) and the Coast Guard (with Commerce).
I also think that the article’s key point – that additional reform is unlikely in the 110th Congress – is premature. We do not yet know the results of the November elections, and if the House and/or Senate shifts to the Democratic Party – whose leaders have consistently argued in favor of implementing ALL of the 9/11 Commission recommendations – then that could alter this political calculus. And the public debate on this issue, as it applies to the 110th Congress, has not yet really begun. I still am hopeful that there will be additional improvements to oversight in the new Congress.