Chertoff: Congress needs to reform DHS oversight
Homeland Secretary Michael Chertoff pleaded to Congress last week to streamline its oversight so that the department isn’t pulled in all directions responding to directives from multiple committees.
The 9/11 Commission recommended that Congress reorganize its jurisdiction that currently requires the Department of Homeland Security to report to 86 committees and subcommittees. But Chertoff said during a year-in-review speech at the Woodrow Wilson Institute in Washington that little progress has been made to achieve the goal.
The dispersed jurisdiction makes it hard for DHS to set priorities and squanders limited resources, he said.
DHS officials have testified 224 times, or about four times per week, in the past year. Since the department’s creation in 2003, officials have testified 761 times, provided 7,800 written reports and answered more than 13,000 questions for the record, he noted.
“Our country needs to have an honest discussion about the tradeoffs involved in homeland security. You cannot make everything a priority. Spending decisions have to be made based on what’s risk-appropriate and what is most cost effective, and that means some things have to take precedence over other things.
“Our main authorizing appropriating committees have the responsibility and the jurisdiction to work with us to assess and analyze those tradeoffs, but when you have 80 or so other committees, each of which has a narrow slice of jurisdiction that also seeks to have input into how we prioritize and how we make tradeoffs, then you have a recipe for conflicting direction and constant fighting about who controls jurisdiction over what part of my agency. This, to be honest, is part of the reason we have seen a lot of organizational churn at DHS over the last year. Every committee feels it wants to put its own imprint on the department,” Chertoff said.
“We welcome the oversight that the authorizing committees have and the appropriating committees have, but please give us a reasonable number of points of contact so that we can engage in a dialogue with Congress in a way that is disciplined and allows us to pursue in a joint fashion the kind of overall assessment of what is important and how to manage this department, that only those who have the big picture have the ability and the incentive to pursue.”