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Congress’s Complicated and Wasteful Oversight of DHS

In 2004, the 9/11 commission released a report with 41suggested actions to improve U.S. national security. Nine years later, in a New York Times op-ed published last week, the commission’s co-chairs Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton argue that one of their most important proposals has still not been carried out: improved homeland security oversight.

According to the piece, more than 100 congressional committees and subcommittees claim jurisdiction over the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). With so many different people in charge, very little gets done, and what does get done gets done slowly. For example, the FBI’s response to the credible and growing threat of cyber terrorism has been impaired by the complicated system. Seven different congressional committees claim jurisdiction over the issue, and they rarely come to an agreement.

The op-ed also argues that the oversight system is wasteful of taxpayer dollars. In 2009, DHS employees spent a total of 66 years worth of work hours responding to questions from Congress at a total taxpayer cost of $10 million.

Kean and Hamilton point out the problems, but they also suggest a solution.

[Congress] members should take steps to accelerate homeland security legislation by placing time limits on committees’ consideration of Homeland Security bills. They also should set clear priorities for the department by passing an authorization bill, which Congress has never done.

In a letter to the editor published Friday in response to the op-ed, the general counsels of DHS under Presidents Bush and Obama, Gus P. Coldebella and Ivan K. Fong, offer an additional recommendation.

Consolidation of the department’s oversight under one Senate and one House committee — as exists for the Justice and Defense Departments — would reduce duplication and inefficiencies, while strengthening Congress’s ability to perform its oversight function by promoting a deeper understanding of homeland security programs among Congressional members and staff.

In 2012, POGO reported on another oversight issue concerning DHS. “Fusion centers,” created after 9/11, were designed to facilitate intelligence sharing between local and state governments and Washington. Instead, they yielded “shoddy” intel, civil liberties violations, and millions of dollars in waste. 

By: Avery Kleinman
Beth Daley Impact Fellow, POGO

Avery Kleinman At the time of publication Avery Kleinman was the Beth Daley Impact Fellow for the Project On Government Oversight.

Topics: National Security

Related Content: Congressional Oversight, DHS Spending, Homeland Security

Authors: Avery Kleinman

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