Yesterday the Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Bennie Thompson, published in the New York Times a response to the July 21 op-ed in the same paper by DHS Deputy assistant secretary for policy development Stephen Heifetz. Heifetz argued that overlapping Congressional committees and both political Parties are the source of the Department’s inability to “develop — and put in place — a broad risk assessment methodology.”
Subtext: While many authorities and influential groups have called for the consolidation of Congressional oversight of DHS, the Administration has made only mild intonations about the need to do so. It seemed as though the cautious approach was taken because the Executive Branch cannot reorganize the Legislative, and it’s the latter’s business.
Further subtext: The Secretary of Homeland Security only recently called for such a reorganization in testimony before Congress, an assertiveness not seen before. And now this high profile op-ed in the New York Times by a policy official at DHS.
We know they’ve always wanted fewer masters in the Congress than the +/-80 committees and subcommittees that they now deal with. But why the overt shift in attention by DHS to Congress now? What changed?
Chairman Thompson suggests that part of the reason is that while the Republicans controlled the Congress, there wasn’t much appetite by the Administration for challenging them on this issue. Now that the Democrats are in charge – and challenging the Administration – there is a new found motivation for Congressional reform.
The core issue may not be Congress at all here. Heifetz argues that the ability to conduct adequate risk-based homeland security investments and strategies is hampered by the multiple parochial demands of Congress. That may be true with regard to state grants, but there are a lot of other options that are within the Department’s control for making progress.
Chairman Thompson puts it this way:
The primary obstacle to a risk-based homeland security strategy is not the need for a Congressional reorganization. During a hearing my committee held last month, expert witnesses asserted the need for a “chief risk officer” at D.H.S., as well as a new presidential directive committed to carrying out risk-management principles in all homeland security functions.
Unfortunately, this administration has not demonstrated an effective risk-management approach, a failure that inevitably leads to political interference from both sides of the aisle.
We need a risk-based approach to homeland security that allocates our limited resources proportionally to risk. D.H.S. then needs to make periodic assessments to gauge our progress in mitigating those risks. This is not being done because the administration is unwilling to make the tough choices that will make our country safer.