Oversight of homeland security issues called weak

Congress still faces turf battles and weak oversight of the nation's homeland security efforts despite recent structural reforms, national security and congressional experts said Tuesday.

"We did not get a big bang of congressional reorganization," Thomas Mann, a congressional analyst at the Brookings Institution, said about jurisdictional changes for House and Senate committees in the 109th Congress. "There will be battles under way for some period of time."

Mann, along with Edwin Meese, an attorney general during the Reagan administration, said the House Homeland Security Committee includes the "old bulls" of the House, such as Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Don Young, R-Alaska, and Government Reform Committee Chairman Tom Davis, R-Va., to protect their panels' turf over security issues. "It sows the seed for conflict," Meese said.

And former Rep. Lee Hamilton, the Indiana Democrat who was vice chairman on the commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, said the oversight powers of the recently named Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee are weak. The Senate agreed to rename the panel last year, but during debate powerful committee chairmen carved away meaningful jurisdiction from the panel.

Both the House and Senate panels have jurisdiction over the Homeland Security Department, but Mann argued that more relevant intelligence and security activities occur outside the department.

Mann also said robust oversight would move "incrementally" this year, and he called on House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., to ensure that the committees receive primary referrals over security legislation and exclusive authority to draft measures to reauthorize department programs.

On intelligence oversight, the experts called on the Senate to follow through on its plans to create an intelligence subcommittee on the Appropriations Committee.

Pennsylvania Republican Arlen Specter, a senior Appropriations member, recently said an intelligence subcommittee may not be created because it would jeopardize keeping the budget for intelligence activities classified. Meese disputed Specter's argument, saying that because the top-line figure is classified, Congress needs a subcommittee to exclusively oversee agencies that are outside the domain of public scrutiny.

Hamilton said Congress must follow the Sept. 11 commission's recommendation to have permanent committees with exclusive jurisdiction on intelligence and homeland security.

"We all understand that information is power in this town," he said. "The agency with information has the power to control and dominate that information ... and you have a leg up."

The experts also argued that over the years the willingness of Congress to conduct aggressive oversight has eroded because the political stakes of criticizing party leadership are perceived as too high.

Mann also said that more centralized power within the leadership, which began when Democrats were in control of both chambers and has been accelerated under GOP control, has eroded the power of committee chairmen and their ability to conduct oversight.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

    Download
  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

    Download
  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

    Download
  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

    Download
  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.