Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

February 12, 2014

Too much Congressional oversight of DHS – does it really impact homeland security?

Filed under: Congress and HLS — by Arnold Bogis on February 12, 2014

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:

here: http://www.annenbergpublicpolicycenter.org/downloads/sunnylands/homeland%20security%20report%2009-11-13.pdf

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?

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Comment by John Comiskey

February 12, 2014 @ 5:10 am


No limb. The nature of HLS is complicated and complex.

Generally, HLS is about the whole community (federal, state, local, private sector, and citizens) preventing/mitigating intentional/natural/accidental threats.

Threat know no boundaries.

Elements of the whole community, in varying forms and coalitions, play different roles in different circumstances. Sometimes elements of the community act secretly, but most times not.

Homeland security at its highest level is about the whole community recognizing that the role of each somehow and someway contributes to the whole.

Congress’s role is to facilitate the whole community’s efforts. That requires Congressional leadership.

Chertoff’s comments were compelling: should a future HLS catastrophe be tied to Congressional ineptitude the American people will be appalled.

Comment by E. Earhart

February 12, 2014 @ 5:57 am

As part of that oversight, Secretary Jeh Johnson will testify this morning at 9 a.m. in front of the House Committee on Homeland Security, on his vision for the future of HLS, challenges and priorities.

Webcast link: http://homeland.house.gov/hearing/hearing-secretary-s-vision-future-challenges-and-priorities

Comment by William R. Cumming

February 12, 2014 @ 8:54 am

Yes Arnold it does make a difference because the current oversight of DHS may be busied but largely incompetent.

Thus President has stated on the record that HLS is part of National Security! But has he made the Secretary DHS an Ex Officio member of the NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL? Has Congress ever held oversight on this question?

Note that much of Congressional oversight is about contractor agendas and which contractors are bought and paid for by campaign contributions.

And why has there never yet been a Congressional Committee to take charge of the issue of why no domestic command and control system in a major crisis or emergency or disaster? Why no oversight of the WH as crisis communicator? Why no real domestic response system that all can understand and only a vague FRAMEWORK?

DHS oversight will be a key issue for the new Republican leadership in the Senate in 2015! By Labor Day that change in leadership next year will be assured.

Why no real discussion as to impact or impacts actual or potential on Hawaii and West Coast by Fukishima event about to be three years past?


The new UCS [Union of Concerned Scientists]book out on the Fukishima event should be on the desk of every member of Congress, their staffs, and the WH staff and DHS leadership.

Let’s have the first Presidential Disaster Declaration NOW for the “big one” in CA and figure out how 15M are feed, provided water and shelter!


Comment by William R. Cumming

February 12, 2014 @ 8:57 am

Double E! This AM hearing now rescheduled until February 26th at 10AM!

Comment by William R. Cumming

February 12, 2014 @ 11:49 am

Excellent second panel this AM on Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing on preparedness for extreme weather events.

Comment by William R. Cumming

February 12, 2014 @ 2:14 pm

And because there was some perception at this AM hearing for both Senators that there are fundamental flaws in the current system of federal disaster relief and the NFIP [National Flood Insurance Program] too bad this committee has no jurisdiction over either program.

Comment by Arnold Bogis

February 13, 2014 @ 2:19 am

Ms. Chertoff,

Thank you for the link. Unfortunately, that also isn’t working, at least for me tonight. However, the original link does work on Firefox, not Chrome (which I use and tried to watch it with last night). The link that seems to work right now is:


If you can provide a YouTube link, I can and will put it on a new post on this website for greater visibility (a technical factor that comes with the blogging platform). Also, if you have a written argument, whether original or something posted elsewhere that I can put up, I’d be happy to share.

I haven’t yet watched the entire video. I will. Yet I’d be surprised if it changed my mind about my underlying argument. I’m stumbling towards a vision of homeland security that depends less and less on the federal government. While constant Congressional testimony on the part of DHS officials is undoubtedly taxing, I’ve yet to hear an example of where it could possibly lead to truly negative outcomes.

What could happen because officials were too busy preparing testimony rather than attending to their other daily tasks?

And the examples given, in particular cyber and biological threats, are not just complex but inherently shared burdens across the federal landscape. Lowering the number of committees that DHS officials must appear before will not change the underlying facts that none of DHS’ components owns or even primarily influences either of those topic areas.

Perhaps it is time to recognize two facts: DHS isn’t actually influential in much of what constituents “homeland security,” and the state of it’s Congressional obligations is a simple consequence of it’s creation.

Comment by Arnold Bogis

February 13, 2014 @ 2:39 am


Thanks for your comment.

I ask, but don’t know, is Congressional leadership expected or even desired?

Or is it rather oversight?

Not “do this” but rather “don’t cross these lines?”

Comment by Arnold Bogis

February 13, 2014 @ 2:43 am


You often bring this up. And it deserves to be brought up. And some enterprising graduate student will hopefully tackle it: “the issue of why no domestic command and control system in a major crisis or emergency or disaster?”

This is a great example of an overarching issue I’d rather see tackled than Congressional oversight architecture by think tanks and academics concerned with homeland security.

Comment by William R. Cumming

February 13, 2014 @ 4:18 pm

Thanks to all for interesting and informative comments. And Arnold in addition to Command, control,communications and intelligence issues in a domestic crisis on a large scale there is really NO SYSTEM of DOMESTIC CRISIS management!

I finally saw the 20 minute video and now announce the real reason for Congress not streamlining the oversight of DHS. CORRUPTION!

Each department and agencies have favorite contractors often contracted for without competitive bidding. Is it a surprise that over time contractors located in the home states or districts of members end up with the contracts?

This is largely due to campaign contributions.

To change oversight jurisdiction is to tamper with these corrupt relationships.


Comment by William R. Cumming

February 13, 2014 @ 4:22 pm

Other than asking each day about the health of the President, I have long suggested the Vice President be made the key domestic crisis manager, hopefully by delegation from the President! Put him/her to work!

Comment by William R. Cumming

February 19, 2014 @ 11:18 am

GAO has put out an excellent report ordered by the Homeland Security Committees and not the Intelligence Committees. A study of the IC use of contractors. Inferentially it concludes the IC contractors control the IC not the reverse. Another tragic failure of governance and one that makes more Eric Snowdens likely to turn up!

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