At Wednesday’s Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee confirmation hearing for Stevan Bunnell as DHS General Counsel and Suzanne Spaulding as Under Secretary of NPPD, both Chairman Tom Carper and Ranking Member Tom Coburn decried the number of leadership vacancies at DHS. (See Rob Margetta’s article in CQ Homeland Security – subscription only.) Dr. Coburn went so far as to tie the leadership problems at DHS to the labyrinth of congressional committees that claim a piece of jurisdiction over the Department and promised that he was going to work to change it.
If Dr. Coburn can succeed – and he will need strong bipartisan support from Senator Carper and his fellow Democrats – it could finally break the logjam of inaction that has prevented streamlined, strong and effective oversight of DHS. Plus, it could serve as a template for action in the House of Representatives, where the situation is far worse than it is in the Senate.
Senator Carper and Coburn’s comments are a positive development, even if the political headwinds are very strong. DHS leadership positions need to be filled, and it is incomprehensible that the White House is taking so long to put forth names for positions of national and international importance. But while the White House dawdles in its personnel selections, Congress needs to assume responsibility for those areas within its control – and eliminating overlapping, ineffective jurisdictional turf battles is a great place to start.