There. I said it. In the title. And now I will no longer be a viable job candidate for anything homeland security-related in Washington, DC (if I ever was in the first place…).
It is common knowledge, wisdom, even quasi-religious doctrine that a fractured and expansive Congressional oversight system hobbles homeland security. Too many officials have to appear before too many Congressional committees, involving too much staff time to prepare that could be better spent securing the homeland.
Look at the comparatively small number of committees that Defense and State report to! It was in the 9/11 Commission Report! OMG this is why the terrorists will win!
Except….except that I’ve yet to hear this complaint outside of Washington or in those communities that do not deal closely with federal policy. Perhaps it is a product of my own insularity. I do not often interact with law enforcement. Perhaps they see the potential for so much more leadership from DHS if only they were not so distracted. Emergency management perhaps? Would UASI funds flow easier, more widely, or with better focus absent onerous Congressional oversight? Fire seems content with their office in DHS. EMS…well, that is another topic entirely, and one worth it’s own post. But one not directly tied up in Congressional oversight.
All this is not to diminish the burden placed on DHS employees. I can scarcely imagine the hours invested in preparing constant Congressional testimony. But the question should be asked: at the end of the day, does this affect homeland security?
State Department officials control the vast majority of diplomatic efforts. Defense Department officials control the vast majority of military action. Department of Homeland Security officials control ______ amount of what can be thought of as homeland security activity?
And if that is a relatively small amount, spread across multiple disciplines, what can be expected from Congressional committees?
All this rumination brought on by a Lawfare post by Paul Rosenzweig, former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy in the Department of Homeland Security. He brings up a the work of the Annenburg Policy Center at UPenn:
Earlier today the Center (in conjunction with the Aspen Institute) followed up on the Task Force report with the release of a new short film on the subject: “Homeland Confusion.” According to the release:
The film argues that Congress can exercise one of its strongest roles in protecting Americans through clear, direct oversight of homeland security. Yet more than 100 committees and subcommittees currently claim jurisdiction over the U.S. Department of Homeland Security – three times as many as supervise the Defense Department. The movie “Homeland Confusion” looks at how and why fragmented Congressional oversight of the Department of Homeland Security leaves our nation more vulnerable than it might otherwise be to the threat of cyber-, biological, and chemical attack.
Unfortunately, I cannot either post the video directly or promise it will be available if you visit their website (I couldn’t access it while writing this post). The task force report referenced can be found here:
Cyber threats? Let’s ignore the complexity for a moment…it’s all about the bureaucracy. Biological threats? Again…let’s ignore both nature and bureaucracy….and blame the committees.
I hesitate to go out on a limb…but perhaps these and other topics are just generally complicated and complex due to their very nature?