June 28, 2005 | Commentary on Department of Homeland Security
It's a basic tenet of combat: If things are going well, the
campaign plan should remain the same, even if leadership
Let us hope that axiom holds for the House Committee for Homeland Security, where Congress has been making some real progress some real progress Congress has made in getting its homeland security house in order.
President George W. Bush recently nominated Rep. Christopher Cox, R-Calif., chairman of the House Committee for Homeland Security, to head the Securities and Exchange Commission. His successor will inherit a long to-do list but also a solid legacy of achievement on which to build.
When Congress created the Department of Homeland Security, it concentrated on the functions the department would perform and the agencies that would perform those functions. But Congress did little to consolidate oversight of the 22 federal organizations and programs it transferred to the new agency. At one time, 88 different congressional committees could've claimed jurisdiction over some part of the department's operations. Predictably, the result was a food fight for power and a stark lack of oversight.
In 2003, Cox assumed the thankless job of chairing a temporary select Homeland Security Committee in the House. With no jurisdiction-and the opposition of other chairs who worked to undercut the effectiveness of the new committee and to preserve their own authority-Cox tirelessly made the case for a permanent standing committee.
His efforts paid off in the 109th Congress, which convened a permanent House Committee for Homeland Security that has real jurisdiction and authority. Cox recruited an outstanding group of committee members, hired a high-quality staff and built a committee structure, complete with sub-committees focused on the new department's most pressing issues, such as border security.
The House Committee for Homeland Security also started out with the right set of legislative priorities. It already has passed its first-ever DHS authorization bill, an important first step in ensuring homeland security programs are effective, rational and accountable to Congress.
Equally important, the committee crafted legislation to reform how grants are allocated to state and local governments. The legislation attempts to curb the current practice of just throwing money at problems to one that addresses high-priority risks and builds a true national response system.
Both measures have passed the House but await Senate action.
The new head of the committee will find that much remains to be done. First and foremost, he or she must prevent homeland security from becoming merely another pork-barrel program, as it has shown signs of doing. And he or she must build on Cox's commitment to continue to improve the organization and management of DHS.
Although the Homeland Security Committee doesn't draft the department's budget, it has an enormous role to play in determining how the money is spent. The next chair has to share Cox's commitment to curb ineffective checkbook security.
A strong strain of fiscal conservatism has to be matched with a spirit of unflinching bipartisanship and immunity to lobbying from states big and small. Homeland Security is not about making some Americans safer at the expense of others. It is about solutions that make all Americans safer. Above all, the new chair must be a leader, not just a consensus-maker. It's not about getting everyone in Washington "on board." It's about stopping terrorism.
Homeland security is too important not to be left to the politicians. We need an engaged and active Congress to play its role in fighting terrorism, promoting economic prosperity and preserving liberty. Chris Cox was that kind of leader in the Congress. The next chair of the homeland security will have to be one as well.
James Jay Carafano and is a senior legal research fellow for national security and homeland security at the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at the Heritage Foundation. James is a co-author of " Winning the Long War: Lessons from the Cold War for Defeating Terrorism and Preserving Liberty."
Distributed nationally on the Knight-Ridder Tribune wire