Lawmaker probes need to streamline Homeland Security oversight

Possibly provoking a major fight between powerful committee chairmen, House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., has asked the Government Accountability Office to review whether Congress' oversight structure is negatively affecting homeland security activities.

Thompson said he is open to revisiting whether Congress should undertake a reorganization to consolidate its oversight of the Homeland Security Department. But he said he wants GAO to report back before any legislation is crafted.

House Homeland Security ranking member Peter King, R-N.Y., said a GAO report might be a good idea, but is not necessary. He is already convinced that the congressional oversight structure is an impediment to homeland security and needs to be overhauled.

"We know the impact it has," King said. "This is a major issue that has to be addressed ... I feel very strongly about it."

He said the duplication of appearances at congressional hearings by Homeland Security officials is a major problem and is damaging the department's ability to carry out its duties.

The department was created four years ago by merging 22 agencies. But powerful committees and their chairmen have been reluctant to relinquish control over parts of the department that fall within their jurisdiction.

Department officials report to about 88 committees and subcommittees, according to department statistics.

"Obviously there are a number of jurisdictional challenges to go through other committees," Thompson said in an interview.

In a letter he sent Monday, Thompson asked GAO to determine the exact number of committees department officials have appeared before in the last three years, and how that compares to officials from other federal departments and agencies.

"In essence, a controversy seems to exist concerning whether the current congressional oversight framework adversely impacts the department," Thompson wrote. "While I am not requesting that you resolve this controversy, I am seeking an explanation of the unique jurisdictional situation confronting the department and whether that situation may play a role in the department's position on the GAO high risk list."

One of the 9/11 Commission's key recommendations was that Congress should create a single, principal point of oversight for homeland security affairs.

Although Democrats campaigned last year on a pledge to enact all of the commission's recommendations, they did not require congressional consolidation in the recently approved 9/11 bill.

The bill was sent to President Bush on Wednesday, but passage was delayed for months by jurisdictional disputes between committees.

When Republicans controlled Congress, they created the House Homeland Security Committee and made it a permanent standing committee. They also merged most of the oversight in the Senate under the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. They never fully fulfilled the 9/11 Commission's recommendations, either.

"While the House of Representatives has established the Committee on Homeland Security and granted this committee the status of a standing permanent committee in accord with the 9/11 Commission's recommendations, this committee is not the single and principal point of oversight and review for the Department of Homeland Security," Thompson wrote.

"Meanwhile, departmental officials have indicated that oversight by a host of congressional entities impedes their ability to perform their core functions and accomplish the integration and transformation of these 22 separate agencies into one unified department," he added.

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

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

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Federal IT Applications: Assessing Government's Core Drivers

    In order to better understand the current state of external and internal-facing agency workplace applications, Government Business Council (GBC) and Riverbed undertook an in-depth research study of federal employees. Overall, survey findings indicate that federal IT applications still face a gamut of challenges with regard to quality, reliability, and performance management.

  • PIV- I And Multifactor Authentication: The Best Defense for Federal Government Contractors

    This white paper explores NIST SP 800-171 and why compliance is critical to federal government contractors, especially those that work with the Department of Defense, as well as how leveraging PIV-I credentialing with multifactor authentication can be used as a defense against cyberattacks

  • Toward A More Innovative Government

    This research study aims to understand how state and local leaders regard their agency’s innovation efforts and what they are doing to overcome the challenges they face in successfully implementing these efforts.

  • From Volume to Value: UK’s NHS Digital Provides U.S. Healthcare Agencies A Roadmap For Value-Based Payment Models

    The U.S. healthcare industry is rapidly moving away from traditional fee-for-service models and towards value-based purchasing that reimburses physicians for quality of care in place of frequency of care.

  • GBC Flash Poll: Is Your Agency Safe?

    Federal leaders weigh in on the state of information security


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