On January 13 the new Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee Mike McCaul (R–TX) announced to The Hill that he had no plans to strip homeland security oversight responsibilities from his fellow Representatives. With over 100 panels and committees having oversight over the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), U.S. homeland security is currently threatened by a web of duplicative and often contradictory oversight. Chairman McCaul is trying to avoid starting a turf war, but in dodging this issue, he is hurting U.S. homeland security.
To date, there are 119 committees, subcommittees, and other congressional groups with responsibility and jurisdiction over DHS. That means that there are 119 different players who each have their own agendas and ideas that are pulling DHS in many different directions. How can DHS, or any organization, truly be effective if they have 119 different panels playing watchdog while trying to give their own input?
Post September 11, the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, better known as the 9/11 Commission, made 41 crucial recommendations to enhance U.S. homeland security efforts. While most of these recommendations have since been implemented, Congress has yet to act on the recommendation calling for a single point of oversight and review for homeland security.
The primary role of DHS is to secure our nation and keep us safe. To best meet this objective, DHS should be able to better focus on actual homeland security policies, not constantly spending valuable time and resources answering to so many different committees. McCaul has stated that his “goal is to work with other relevant committee chairs and try to work out the jurisdictional battles and not engage in a bunch of turf wars.” This misses the point—these turf wars and jurisdictional battles are part of the problem and they are harming U.S. homeland security.
Strong oversight is important, but reforms must be made to fix the status quo labyrinth of oversight. One successful model for such reform is the oversight structure of the Department of Defense, the only executive branch organization with a similar mission and function. Subsequently, oversight of DHS should be pared down to exactly six committees with three in the Senate and three in the House. Under this structure, in each chamber, the Homeland Security Committee, the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and the Appropriations Committee would have oversight over the Department. Together with 14 subcommittees, this would bring the total number of committees and subcommittees with oversight of DHS to 26. Implementing such a structure would significantly reduce duplication and strengthen homeland security.
DHS was created to defend the U.S. homeland. Regrettably, DHS is hamstrung by overwhelming and often contradictory oversight and guidance from 119 congressional panels. Rather than avoid a turf war, Congress should consolidate oversight of DHS to make the U.S. more secure.