The mandate from the last election was clear: bring on change.
In tapping Governor Janet Napolitano to become the third Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security today, President-elect Obama reached outside the beltway and did not pick a former member of the Clinton administration.
The governor’s resume and achievements are nothing short of impressive. Napolitano’s executive experience as a two-term governor will help her manage one of the nation’s largest federal departments. As a former US attorney and state attorney general in Arizona, her law enforcement experience will serve her well as she oversees components including, Secret Service, Immigration and Customs and Enforcement, Customs and Border Protection and the Coast Guard.
But when Governor Napolitano takes over the massive department come January, she needs to keep two fundamental principles of government in mind:
• Don’t reshuffle the deck — change is not always a good thing in a fledgling bureaucracy that is starting to “gel.”
• Do work with Congress to reduce the 8o plus committees/subcommittees that oversee some component of the department and streamline oversight so DHS can be more nimble and responsive to threats.
When DHS became operational on January 24, 2003, it was the largest reorganization of the federal government since the Defense Department was created in 1947. Over the past six years, the department has already endured several reorganizations with varying success. DHS is finally starting to “gel” as an organization and the last thing it needs right now is more confusion. Is there room for improvement? Absolutely — every organization can improve, but now is not the time to force another structural change down the department’s throat.
The country is still at risk of another attack. Most believe that we are long overdue. The September 2008 terror attacks on the Marriott in Islamabad and the US Embassy in Yemen, and the attacks in Mumbai last week show that terrorists are increasingly targeting sites that have a strong American presence.
The ordinary challenges associated with an administration change are overwhelming enough and there is no need to further exacerbate those challenges by structurally changing the department. We need DHS to be laser focused on its core mission: homeland security. We don’t need a department undermined by turf battles and more reorganization challenges. Governor Napolitano, please don’t give in to knee-jerk changes during your first year at DHS.
Despite the 9/11 Commission’s recommendation that Congress create a “single, principal point of oversight and review,” DHS is still subject to oversight by 86 congressional committees and subcommittees. In a letter dated September 4, 2007, Secretary Michael Chertoff provided startling statistics to Rep. Peter King:
• DHS had a 25% increase in the number of Congressional hearings from 2004 and 2006 (from 165 to 206).
• DHS had a 28% increase in the number of Congressional briefings from 2004 to 2006 (from 1,747 to 2,242).
• DHS had a 31% increase in the number of witnesses that provided testimony at Congressional hearings from 2004 to 2006 (from 205 to 268).
Congressional oversight is essential to ensure the success of the department. However, that oversight needs to be streamlined and balanced. DHS leadership needs to concentrate on ensuring the success of DHS’ extraordinarily broad mission and continuing the coalescence of the department’s components.
Congress and the Bush Administration worked together to ensure that the final recommendations of the 9/11 Commission were codified and President Bush signed HR 1 into law on August 3, 2007. Ironically, however, Congress did not see fit to embrace the 9/11 Commission’s recommendation to create a single, principal point of congressional oversight and review. That is a mistake that needs to be addressed.
During the press conference yesterday, President-elect Obama astutely stated that America’s security, “is not a partisan issue.” The Obama administration and Congress should embrace that precept and do what’s best for DHS and our country — leave the department alone during the transition and, ultimately, redirect congressional oversight to one committee.