In the days after any election, there is what you can call the CSI forensics analysis. Analysts of every stripe go around and pick up the pieces of what’s left of the election’s victorious and vanquished and tell you what it all means. I guess I could do that, but rather than beat a horse already turned to glue, I’d rather share with you my wish list for the new Congress.
1) Fix Congressional Oversight – There is no better time than the present to fix what is inherently broken. Depending on who you talk with, DHS has either 88 Congressional Committees that have oversight for it, or upwards of 110. There is not an organization anywhere on the planet that has as much oversight as DHS, yet the Bush Administration and the Obama Administration and each of the Republican and Democratically controlled Congresses FAILED to address what has become an overly burdensome and distracting problem. Putting the territorial egos of Republicans and Democrats and their Committee fiefdoms on Capital Hill in responsible and reasonable check not only makes sense, it is a sign of sanity. That is something that has yet to be exhibited by either side but is desperately needed. It would also finish off the list of 9/11 Commission recommendations for needed attention. It’s long past time to do this!
2) Learn to take a deep breath before responding to/imposing solutions to incidents – With last week’s thwarted attempt by terrorists to ship concealed explosives through international supply chains successfully disrupted, there have already been calls by some members to again impose a number of measures upon the private sector. Most notable of these are new measures proposed last week by Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), who has long had a penchant for imposing solutions without regard to their public and private sector budget implications, operational realities or technological capabilities actually being attainable.
There is no responsible private or public sector shipper, cargo carrier, or supply chain member who would knowingly operate with public disregard for the safety and care of their employees, customers, or country. Not one of them is looking to have their names and reputations associated with a tragic event, but imposing new knee-jerk (and potentially punitive) regulations or other measures without fully understanding the scope of an event (whatever it may be) and the implications of proposed remedies completely ignores the costs, consequences, and interdependent impacts associated with such prescribed remedies.
The phrase “look before you leap” comes to mind in cases like these. I am not saying that we should not propose or impose corrective actions where they are needed, but taking a full and careful analysis while allowing responsible parties, be they private sector members or government agencies (e.g. TSA, CBP, USCG, etc.), to take action is also a solution to be considered. Playing to cameras and pointing fingers at hearing witnesses for the media to capture to demonstrate to everyone that you’re doing something for the people back home is posturing plain and simple. There is enough of that going on in Washington. The homeland community and public and private sector are better than that and deserve better too. We are all in this together.
3) Infrastructure Funding – In his post-election press conference, President Obama was asked about possible areas of bi-partisan cooperation between his political party and the newly resurgent Republicans. One of the areas he mentioned was infrastructure and proceeded to point out that the Chinese now had the world’s fastest supercomputer and were making new investments in high speed rail, etc. The President is absolutely right on this point. Infrastructure is something both political parties can join forces on to enhance and improve, but it is long past time for us to fix the way we invest in it.
As the most recent ASCE Infrastructure Report Card has indicated, as a nation we are FAILING in our investment and upkeep of the very components that make our economy, innovation and way of life prosperous. The methods that we have been using for the past several decades, from the monstrous ISTEA (Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act) bills and the much maligned Stimulus Act, have proven to be pork-laden spending sprees that have not made any measurable improvements to our national infrastructure improvement grades. Proposals like the Infrastructure Bank (which then-presidential candidate Obama offered) and had bi-partisan support amongst the nation’s governors and in the current and previous Congresses, present a fresh start and more sensible alternative than the failure reinforcing methods we seem committed to using time and again.
With a new Congress and the voluntary (and in-voluntary) departure of several old-school Congressional Committee Chairmen who solidified and anchored these failed investment means, it is time to hit the “reset” button and begin making smarter decisions with limited taxpayer dollars for the sustainable and resilient infrastructure our nation and all of its communities need.
4) Civility – One of the things I have loved about working on homeland security issues is the relative bipartisan nature of it. The overwhelming majority of the people who work these issues are not the Kool-Aid drinking, flame-throwing hyper-partisans that offer more distraction and annoyance than they do solution sets. I hope and pray that continues. The behavior and cooperation exhibited between Sens. Lieberman and Collins on the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee has been at many times inspiring and a model for how people of different political persuasions can work together. There are the occasional flare-ups and partisan pokes that have popped up in Congressional hearings (see some of Rep. Bill Pascrell’s [D-NJ] tirades), but for the most part, things have been fairly pleasant. With any luck, that will continue.
5) Treat the Congressional Staff well – When it comes to Congressional staff, I’ve been fortunate to work with good people on both sides of the Hill of both political parties. They have been attentive, good listeners/questioners who really do want to get to the heart of matters. Unfortunately, like DHS, both sides of the Hill have endured a decent amount of staff turnover, especially the Democratic staff of House Homeland over the past year and half. There are a lot of reasons for this, but it is my hope that there will be a stable core of inquisitive and experienced professional staff (and not campaign-centric, fund-raising hacks) that will make up the core of both sides of the respective staffs. If you put good people in place, your end product will show the care and attention that can ultimately be delivered. That was most apparent during the Resilience hearings that House Homeland convened in the spring 2008, which I think were probably the high point for the Committee during 111th Congress.