menu

With just about every Midterm Election poll forecasting Hurricane Katrina-like destruction for Congressional Democrats and a prospective GOP takeover of the U.S. House of Representatives, it begs the question, “What will change?”

Speaker in waiting, Rep. John Boehner (R-OH), has already shared some of his thoughts on potential Congressional reforms, declaring he wants to see legislators actually write legislation instead of having bills written within the confines of the Speakers Office by a select few Members. That would be a big change from the era of Speakers Hastert and Pelosi where no piece of legislation went forward without it being written within their immediate office walls. Such a move would also put the powers of the House back into the hands of Committee chairmen. That’s where things could get real interesting.

In such a Boehner-envisioned universe, it presents some interesting possibilities for the homeland security arena. Returning to the chairmanship of the House Homeland Security Committee would be Rep. Peter King (R-NY), who for all intents and purposes has probably been the most visible and vocal member of the Committee since it’s inception. To those who have watched him over the years, King has never been shy about what he thinks works and does not work in America’s homeland security, and one thing he has spoken about that doesn’t work is Congressional oversight.

Depending upon who you talk to, there are anywhere between 88 to 122 Congressional Committees with DHS oversight. The organizational charts for these various oversight constructs look something like the electronic wiring schematics for an aircraft carrier on steroids that might be flying to Neptune. It is cumbersome, it is confusing and it is chaos personified.

No other Cabinet department or agency in the federal sphere has near the obtrusive oversight problems that DHS has. Not the State Department nor the Defense Department, and they are still involved with two wars! Not even the SEC or Treasury Department, and their carelessness on the job helped put the country into an economic ditch from which we are still trying to climb out.

DHS on the other hand is like a patient being operated on by anywhere between 88-122 different medical schools at the same time with 535 unique doctors giving their own individual prescriptions for its future care and wellbeing. Nowhere but Washington does this type of medicine make sense, and for those of us who have been close to these issues, it has been medical malpractice that has gone on for far too long.

In offering this criticism, I am not saying that DHS should be free of Congressional oversight. By all means, the Department and all of its component parts should be examined thoroughly so each program, policy and action is measured in accordance with our country’s laws and to further ensure that each dollar received is spent wisely. The current oversight paradigm with its existing obtrusive structures serves none of these purposes, nor could it be considered even remotely effective.

It goes without saying that Speaker Hastert and his successor, Nancy Pelosi, have both failed miserably in their responsibilities in addressing this issue. Whether out of blind ignorance or just blissful disregard to keep their Members happy, both failed to fix what is fixable and allowed the existing chaos to take further root in the Congressional machinery. Furthermore, ignoring the one and only recommendation of the 9/11 Commission that Congress has failed to address only shines a darker reflection of incompetence on a body whose poll numbers rival only that of BP’s.

Despite the media and political chatter about what a Republican-controlled House would look like, Rep. Boehner and other House Republican leaders have been silent on addressing this issue. It’s a fair question to ask and someone should raise it.

Good people on both sides of the political aisles, as well as Congressional scholars and other issue experts, have bemoaned the Congressional oversight situation for years, but it was the previous Republican leaders and the country’s current Democratic leadership who have allowed this situation to continue to proceed.

New House leadership, be it Boehner, Cantor or someone else, can break the cycle of oversight incompetence and usher in an era of smarter, efficient and more effective oversight. Allowing the existing construct to continue is a recipe for on-going failure, and that is something that no American wants to have in its Congress.

There are certainly a number of urgent issues the leadership of the 112th Congress will have to deal with when they take office in January 2011, but how it organizes itself and its oversight responsibilities is one that deserves critical attention. The homeland mission and its multitude of issues and actions deserves better than it has received the past 8-plus years. It’s time to make it right.

Rich Cooper blog 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