GOP lawmakers say Congress sapping DHS' energy

By Chris Strohm

May 30, 2007

Republicans on the House Homeland Security Committee have asked the Homeland Security Department to explain how much time and resources it spends in reporting to congressional committees and responding to congressional inquires.

In a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff released Wednesday, the lawmakers said they are concerned that Congress continues to impose "a disorganized and unreasonably burdensome" oversight structure on the department.

"We believe the current state of homeland security oversight and jurisdictional dysfunction in Congress may be adversely affecting the department's mission performance and impeding the enactment of meaningful homeland-security legislation," the GOP lawmakers wrote in the letter, which was spearheaded by House Homeland Security Committee ranking Republican Peter King of New York. "Unless Congress reforms its committee oversight structure, the department's senior officials will continue to spend far too much time appearing at repetitious hearings and briefings and answering endless congressional inquiries when they should be devoting their attention to the priority of securing the homeland."

The commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks observed in its 2004 report that the Homeland Security Department reports to 88 congressional committees and subcommittees. The GOP lawmakers said that number remains the same today.

The so-called 9/11 commission recommended that the House have a single, primary committee responsible for oversight of homeland security programs and polices. That recommendation was not implemented by Republicans when they controlled Congress and remains unfulfilled to date.

Republicans in the last Congress did, however, make the House Homeland Security Committee a permanent standing committee. The GOP lawmakers note in their letter that Democrats promised to implement all unfulfilled recommendations of the 9/11 commission, but have so far failed to consolidate congressional oversight.

King indicated he is already convinced that the oversight structure is harmful. "The current state of congressional oversight is hampering our homeland security efforts," King said in a statement. "These problems weaken our ability to protect our country and prevent another terrorist attack and we must do what is necessary to diminish the potentially harmful effects."

King added: "This is an opportunity for DHS to provide us with information on exactly how burdensome that oversight is. Congressional leadership must act now to consolidate homeland security jurisdiction and be prepared to devote the necessary time and resources needed to enact those changes."

Recognizing that they are asking Homeland Security for more reports, the GOP lawmakers said they believe most of the requested information is already compiled by the department and should be delivered with minimal effort.

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., could not be reached for comment on the issue in time for this story.

By Chris Strohm

May 30, 2007