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 Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.


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