If you wanted an example of Congressional oversight gone amuck, all you had to do was watch the April 27 hearing of DHS Secretary Napolitano in front of the Senate’s Judiciary Committee. When I saw the hearing title, “Oversight of the Homeland Security Department,” I had hopes the hearing might possibly tackle the cumbersome issue of Congressional oversight. My hopes were quickly crushed as the hearing did not come close to dealing with this issue.

Instead the hearing ended up being a potpourri of questions fired at the Secretary on the issues du jour that were on each of the Senators minds. Committee members engaged in a broad-range Q&A, with questions such as:

  • What’s happening on the Southern Border;
  • Her views on the recently signed immigration legislation in her home state of Arizona;
  • The status of a FEMA Grant to a California university; and
  • The value of the Secure Border Initiative.

As enlightening and informative as the give and take may have been, particularly the back and forth with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and the Secretary on border security, it was a complete waste of her time.

It’s expected that Senators and House Members will ask any Cabinet Secretary or other senior official questions that relate to the interests of the people back home. But to haul them in front of a full committee to pepper them with a grocery list of random questions seems like a complete disrespect of the principal’s time.

There are numerous Authorization and Appropriations Committees on both sides of the Hill that are dedicated to homeland security and where these questions would have been appropriate. God knows these committees hold enough hearings to check up on things and to check into programmatic details at the nano-level, but when you consider all that Secretary Napolitano and her leadership team have on their plate, you can’t help but wonder if a session like yesterday’s is worth it.

Maybe it’s just the Judiciary Committee reminding DHS that it still has its hooks into the Department, and they are exercising their rights to pull their chain for some face time. But they could send a better message if they gave the Secretary and her staff the time back to work on the overflowing inbox instead of the long-winded Q&A sessions they have obviously perfected.

If there is one other take away from today’s hearing it’s the fact that just about anyone can show up at one of these events.  Even apparently desperate job seeking graduates wearing blue mortar boards looking to get the attention of the Secretary and all the other Senators.  Take a look at the screen shot from the webcast of the hearing to see what I mean.

Napolitano at hearing

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