The research arm of Congress issued a report questioning the statutory legitimacy of the White House Homeland Security Council. Thanks to reader William Cumming and CQ Homeland Security for identifying this paper, which FAS made available. It reveals the haphazard way in which the former White HouseOffice of Homeland Security (OHS) â€“ led by Tom Ridge â€“ faded away after the Department of Homeland Security stood up and Ridge took the job as its first chief. According to budget documents and appropriations bills, most of the funding and personnel that ran OHS quietly shifted to the Homeland Security Council. The only problem was that for purposes of appropriations (the law), the HSC doesnâ€™t exist.
Iâ€™m pretty sure its there. After all I have friends there and have had the opportunity to work with the people staffing the HSC. It is no shell either. While bureaucratically denuded, the HSC issued the 23 Homeland Security Presidential Directives we have today (that often times are issued jointly as National Security Presidential Directives also). Heck, the Homeland Security Act of 2002 actually mandated the creation of a â€œNational Homeland Security Councilâ€ to be chaired by the president. (See Title IX of the Act for more.) This was the same Act that created DHS and led to the closing of the Office of Homeland Security at the White House.
According to the Congressional Research Service, thatâ€™s also the last weâ€™ve seen, officially, of the HSC. The public does not know how many people work there, what they do, how they do it, and where the money goes that funds this White House operation.
At issue is the practice the White House has of requesting funding for the HSC through a shell sub-account with in the â€œWhite House Officeâ€ account that was left after the Office of Homeland Security closed its doors. Harold Relyea, author of the CRS paper, found that the Congress tried to call them out on this:
In late July 2003, House appropriators, in their report on the Departments of Transportation and Treasury and Independent Agencies Appropriations Bill, 2004, revealed that the Bush Administration had changed the â€œOffice of Homeland Securityâ€ account, previously listed for the EOP, to an account for the â€œHomeland Security Council.â€ The report also questioned the continued role of OHS, saying â€œit is not clear what work remains that cannot be effectively performed by the Department of Homeland Security.â€ The account change also implied the shift of 66 staff personnel from OHS to the HSC, which the report questioned, â€œgiven the existence and support of the Department of Homeland Security.â€ The committee cut the Presidentâ€™s request of $8.3 million for the council to $4.1 million. Senate appropriators declined to fund the HSC through the White House Office (WHO) account, as requested, and recommended the $8.3 million sought by the President for the council in a separate account for the HSC.
To get appropriations, the HSC needs to have authorization from the Congress. Relyae explains that the House has tried repeatedly to fund the HSC through its own account â€“ separate from the WHO account â€“ as a symbolic gesture to shine some light on the subject.
All of this emerges within the context of an ongoing debate in Washington about what the future of the HSC should be. With a new administration coming in and the new HSC head only just taking on the job, the HSCâ€™s days look numbered.