Last week President George W. Bush announced his nomination of Rep. Christopher Cox (CA-R) to head the Security and Exchange Commission. As a result, the Congressman will soon relinquish the chairmanship of the House Committee for Homeland Security. He leaves behind a solid legacy, but a long to-do list for the committee's new leader.
Present at the Creation
When Congress passed the legislation establishing the Department of Homeland Security in 2002, it did little to consolidate oversight of the more than 22 federal organizations and programs it transferred to the new agency. Instead, several dozen committees claimed jurisdiction over parts of the department. The result was oversight paralysis-with virtually no effective leadership from Congress. As one witness before the 9/11 Commission warned, the lack of effective oversight was the single greatest obstacle faced in creating an effective Department of Homeland Security.
Cox assumed the chair of a temporary select Homeland Security Committee in the House. With no jurisdiction-and the opposition of other chairs who actively worked to undercut the effectiveness of the new committee and to preserve their own authority-Cox worked tirelessly to make the case for a permanent standing committee.
Due in large part to the Cox's lobbying, the 109th Congress opened with a permanent House Committee for Homeland Security that has real jurisdiction and authority. Cox also recruited an outstanding group of members, hired a high-quality staff, and built a committee structure, with sub-committees focused on the most pressing issues facing the new department-problems like management, border security, and science and technology.
Setting the Course
The House Committee for Homeland Security also started out with the right set of legislative priorities. It has already passed an authorization bill-something sorely needed that had never been done before. The authorization bill is the first step in ensuring that homeland security programs are effective, rational, and accountable to Congress.
Equally important, the committee crafted a bill to reform the system of allocating grants to state and local governments-a bill that was needed to turn the current grant system, which largely just throws money at the problem, to one that focuses on addressing the highest priority risks and building a true national response system.
The House has passed both measures. The Senate should consider them.
While the Congressman from California will leave behind a strong legacy, there is still much to be done. The highest priority is that the new head of the House Committee for Homeland Security must, like Cox, be committed to keep homeland security spending from becoming just another pork-barrel program-just as the 9/11 Commission challenged. And the new head must share Cox's unshakable commitment to improving the organization and management of the fledgling Department of Homeland Security.
James Jay Carafano, Ph.D., is Senior Research Fellow for National Security and Homeland Security in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation.