Kudos to Politico, and in particular Sarah Laskow of the Center for Public Integrity for their FRONT PAGE story in today’s issue (July 16, 2009) on the perpetual and ongoing train-wreck that is Congressional oversight of the Department of Homeland Security.  Ms. Laskow and Politico point out in their opening two paragraphs:

Five years ago next week, the 9/11 Commission, a congressionally mandated panel investigating Al Qaeda’s 2001 attacks, made 41 recommendations on topics like improving airport screening and creating a national intelligence director. Since then, somewhere between 80 percent and 90 percent of its suggestions have been enacted, according to the commission.

The recommendation that Congress “create a single, principal point of oversight and review for homeland security” is a notable exception.

For a group of people always quick to point out fault with any number of programs, policies, grant funding allocations, technology challenges, and so on, I would think it would feel a bit uncomfortable, if not shameful, to look in the mirror and realize that all of the 9/11 Commission recommendations have been acted upon except for the one that deals with them.

Let’s put some facts on the table to assess this situation.

One of the failings of the Republican leadership running Congress in the immediate post-9/11 era was dealing with this situation in a thoughtful, effective and efficient manner.  Their lack of courage and leadership in doing so has allowed an incredibly cumbersome and ineffective oversight approach to take root and continue to operate in a dysfunctional manner today.

Only making the situation worse is the lack of courage and leadership of the current Congressional Democratic leaders to address this situation and fix it.  There was much ballyhoo and cheering by these leaders when it came to passing HR1, the Implementing the Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act, as it dealt with many of the recommendations, but when it came to getting their own shop in working order they chickened out and skipped doing anything about it.

For all of the right reasons, the 9/11 Commission Report has been used by 9/11 families, citizens, government agencies, the media and more as the ultimate yard stick to measure our progress in improved intelligence operations; increased governmental agency coordination; information sharing and more.  In every category of that Report, huge progress has been made with the exception of one – Congressional oversight.  By any sense of measure or metric – that is failure.

Politico’s and Ms. Laskow’s exceptional reporting is not the first time this condition has been made shared on this issue either.  The Heritage Foundation, the Center for American Progress, The Hill, Roll Call, CQ, Government Executive, the Washington Post and more have all reported on this ongoing condition.  They’ve all reported the same thing too – failure. Indeed, my good colleague David Olive wrote published an article in the Hill on this very issue last year (“Congress, Heal Thyself“).

In addition to these reports, previous and current DHS leaders have also gone on the record to detail the extraordinary burdens, ineffectiveness and distraction that effective oversight has brought to their fulfillment of one of the government’s most critical functions.  In response, Congress has offered perpetual lip service, bobbing heads going up and down and empty pledges and promises to do better.

In the end though the only thing that matters is action.

If that is the metric we have to use, the grade is obvious.  It’s an F.

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