Strange things are happening and I’m not sure why. For example, I am recommending a piece in the New York Times – a once great newspaper that frankly has not been so great lately. In today’s edition (July 21, 2008) Stephen Heifetz, who is the DHS Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy Development, has written a great op-ed entitled, “The Risk of Too Much Oversight.” Given the past performance of the “Old Gray Lady,” I’m stunned that the New York Times had the wisdom to post such words given they’ve lacked the guts to print responses by DHS Sec. Chertoff to some of the Times’ other misguided and misreported pieces and editorials on border security, immigration, etc. Heifetz’s eloquent words echo a number of other recent op-ed’s, articles and speeches on this subject – it seems that what were once considered random voices in the wilderness calling for improvements to Congressional oversight are starting to assemble and become a louder and louder choir singing a hymn to Congress to ‘heal thyself.’

With any luck, when the McCain and Obama campaigns get around to articulating what homeland security will look like in their prospective administrations, this issue will be one of the first on their list to address. While the Executive Branch has no authority to amend how Congress executes its oversight over DHS or any other federal department or agency, it can provide fresh leadership and new focus in the opening months of the new administration on how both branches can do business in a better and much more strategic fashion than is happening now. The present environment serves no one effectively, least of all the American public who expect DHS’ leaders to be leading their respective mission assignments and not reciting testimony and talking points for the umpteenth time or posing for the C-Span television cameras.

No one doubts the need for congressional oversight, or the need for our elected representatives to be asking tough questions about how our country secures its citizenry, commerce or way of life. It requires leadership to make that oversight effective and thus far, leadership on this issue has been non-existent from the top tier leaders in Congress. Who knows – maybe some of those New York Times readers will wake up to that fact once they read Heifetz’s op-ed today and perhaps might actually say something about it to some of those leaders.

Anything is possible – even saying nice things about DHS, FEMA and other components of the Department.

There was a time when that might have been seen as the impossible dream, but recent speeches by Rep Henry Cuellar (D-TX), Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI) and some of the opening statements by Members of Congress in hearings over the past few weeks have been generous in their praise and respect for the efforts of Sec. Chertoff, his leadership team and the more than 200,000 people in the Department who work tirelessly to keep the country safe and secure. House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) even went so far as to put his praise in writing via a July 18th letter he sent commending the Department and in particular FEMA for their work with the recent Midwest floods. Commenting on good news has to be a nice change of pace for these Congressional leaders, and I’m sure that getting something positive in the mail has to be refreshing for DHS.

That’s what may be the strangest thing of all – people have actually had some good things to say about DHS, FEMA and others. Wow! Imagine that. I wasn’t sure we’d ever hear Congress, the media or for that matter anyone say something nice about DHS, its leadership or its performance but then again, I didn’t think the New York Times had the sense to post a reasonable and factual op-ed either.

Life is indeed strange but if this is a trend – reason printed in the Old Gray Lady; a growing chorus for reforming Congressional oversight; recognizing and praising DHS’ leaders and performance – I’d like it to continue.

Who knows, we just might enjoy it being ‘strange’ for a while…

Rich Cooper blogs primarily on emergency preparedness and response, management issues related to the Department of Homeland Security, and the private sector’s role in homeland security. Read More