Since President George W. Bush proposed
the establishment of a new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on
June 6, the congressional debate in the Senate has largely focused
not on how the restructuring would protect Americans, but on how it
would affect federal employees. Though the President and Congress
wisely recognize that change is necessary to improve how the
federal government ensures homeland security, the need for
government reform extends beyond the federal bureaucracy.
implement a coordinated homeland security policy, the complex and
overlapping congressional committee system that oversees the
relevant agencies and departments must be reformed. The convening
of the 108th Congress provides the best opportunity to accomplish
this vital step.
Congress's responsibilities related to
homeland security and terrorism transcend all aspects of its
traditional committee authority. Indeed, the White House has
identified 88 committees and subcommittees that currently exercise
authority over homeland security policy. In the House, for example, at least 14
full committees and 25 separate subcommittees claim jurisdiction
over some aspect of homeland security. Ten of the 13 appropriations
subcommittees lay claim to a portion of homeland security
expenditures. Moreover, committee jurisdictions frequently
mix of dispersed jurisdiction and authority creates wasteful
inefficiencies, including joint and sequential referrals of
legislation and redundant oversight hearings. Just since the
President's announcement in June, there have been at least 75
committee and subcommittee hearings on homeland security.
Regardless of when the Department of
Homeland Security becomes a reality, Congress will likely have to
take additional legislative and oversight actions during the period
of transition from the current system. Without reform of its
committee structure, vital homeland security efforts--including the
operational development of the DHS--are likely to languish.
Concurrent referrals of legislation to multiple committees with
overlapping jurisdiction mean that DHS officials will have to spend
untold hours briefing numerous committees.
Moreover, with oversight authority divided
among so many committees, DHS officials may find themselves
responding to a multitude of inquiries just to obtain Congress's
blessing for day-to-day functions. Clearly, developing and
implementing solutions to the nation's security problems is a far
more effective use of their time than delivering the same message
to different committees. Reforming the congressional committee
structure will prove key to effective homeland security.
The Disjointed Committee System
congressional debate on legislation to establish the DHS
illustrated the cost of the disjointed committee system. The House
recognized that its standing rules would dramatically slow passage
of any legislation to establish the new department. It created a
temporary Select Committee on Homeland Security to process the
legislation (H.R. 5005) and gave it sole authority for debating and
amending the bill, which the full House would vote on.
House leadership allowed all other committees to hold hearings and
amend the initial draft, but this process was only to advise the
Select Committee prior to its deliberations. When the Select
Committee met for mark up, it reviewed the President's proposed
legislation, not the opinions of the other committees. Adopting
this process allowed the House to focus on homeland security issues
that directly affect the proposed department and to move quickly to
pass legislation acceptable to the President. It did so on June 26,
Senate, on the other hand, relied on its existing committee system
with disastrous results. The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee
was assigned responsibility for reviewing and amending the bill
prior to floor debate. The committee did not finish this process
until after the House had already passed its legislation. After two
months of debate in the full Senate, the bill has stalled. Also,
instead of focusing on the many issues directly related to homeland
security or the operation of the new department, the Senate allowed
the debate to become hijacked by union special interests.
if the Senate passes legislation during a lame duck session in
November or December, the slow pace of the process in the Senate
already has delayed the establishment of the new department, and it
is likely to lengthen the duration of the transition period
significantly. While many considerations contributed to this chain
of events in the Senate, the committee's lack of focus on homeland
security-related issues is surely one of the more avoidable.
While the Select Committee proved
successful in moving H.R. 5005 through the House, House Resolution
449 setting up the Select Committee requires its dissolution after
the President signs the DHS bill. The resolution notes that this
committee's creation should not be interpreted as altering the
jurisdiction of any current standing committee. Nonetheless, the
Select Committee's very formation and the experience of the past
five months show that Congress cannot efficiently manage vital
homeland security issues under the current committee structure.
The Need to Reform the Appropriations
with the DHS debate, the manner in which the President's fiscal
year (FY) 2003 budget request for homeland security has been
divided provides a compelling illustration of the need to reform
the House and Senate Appropriations Committees.
President's budget request is currently divided into at least seven
appropriations bills (Commerce/State/Justice; Defense; Agriculture;
Energy; Transportation; Health and Human Services; and Foreign
Operations). Each of these bills falls under the authority of a
separate appropriations subcommittee.
division becomes even more striking when one looks at each
initiative in the budget request. The President's first responder
initiative and bioterrorism program are divided between two bills,
while funding for his border security and technology agendas is
included in five bills.
Requiring the comptroller of DHS to review
nearly every appropriations bill to determine the department's
budget will prove cumbersome and inhibit transparency. Indeed, it
is already difficult to track homeland security spending from
pre-September 11 levels to the FY 2003 budget because programs are
mired in the budgets of many agencies and nearly as many
appropriations bills. In some cases, separate budget categories for
homeland security spending do not even exist. For instance, federal
cyber-security spending is typically not distinct from general
information technology procurement.
Having a piece of DHS's budget in nearly
every appropriations bill could inhibit its programs as they wait
for the numerous budgets to be passed before they can begin
operating. Further, the diffusion of funds across many budgets will
make the DHS less accountable for how it spends tax dollars, since
studying its budget will remain labor intensive.
Time for Major Congressional Reform
House Majority Leader Richard Armey (R-TX)
had indicated previously that any decision to reform Congress would
be deferred at least until the DHS had been established, and
potentially until the 2003 session. While the DHS remains mired in
Senate politics, the 107th Congress is coming to a close, and new
rules will soon be written for the 108th Congress.
means Congress will have the best opportunity of all to reform
itself by restructuring its committees to provide better homeland
security oversight. Postponing action until later in the session
could prove more explosive than tackling it in the beginning of the
session as the rules are being written and before Members become
entrenched in their old committee assignments.
Putting off the needed reforms also would
be unwise. The DHS Secretary cannot effect a rapid transition to a
new bureaucratic culture if his staff must spend most of their time
responding to the inquiries of 88 committees and subcommittees, or
wait while any of 535 Members of the House and Senate try to add
earmarks to a piece of urgent legislation.
the new DHS to achieve maximum efficiency as quickly as possible,
Congress must take prompt steps to restructure the committee
system. Specifically, the new leadership of both houses of the
108th Congress should:
- Establish new
committees on homeland security. The leadership in both
houses should establish permanent, standing authorizing committees
on homeland security, with sole authority for the functions
absorbed by the DHS. Committees that now have jurisdiction should
relinquish that authority to the new committee, and the Rules of
the House of Representatives and the Standing Rules of the Senate
should be changed accordingly. The Select Committees on
Intelligence should oversee the intelligence functions of the DHS
because of the classified nature of the information.
In areas where multiple agencies will
continue to share responsibility for functions, such as research
related to chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear (CBRN)
attacks, each standing committee on homeland security should, in
practice, be designated the committee of primary jurisdiction. The
committees on homeland security should then establish subcommittees
that parallel the DHS's core responsibilities: infrastructure
protection; domestic preparedness; research and development; border
security; maritime and transportation security; state and local
coordination; and personnel and management.
appropriations subcommittees on homeland security. The
Appropriations Committees of both houses should establish
subcommittees on homeland security. Having single permanent
standing committees would simplify the congressional oversight and
If the current Appropriations Committees
are not similarly reformed, the DHS budget each year would be
subject to review and interference by 10 appropriations
subcommittees in each house. Such complexity will retard the pace
of the appropriations process and invite excessive congressional
micromanagement of routine agency functions. Creating one homeland
security appropriations subcommittee in each house for the DHS
budget would simplify the process and provide much needed
transparency concerning homeland security expenditures.
- Initially assign
members to the committees based on their expertise. It has
been suggested that a new committee be modeled on the House and
Senate Select Committees on Intelligence. Members of these
committees are drawn from the standing committees that have
oversight authority over the federal agencies in the intelligence
In the Senate, the committees on Armed
Services, Foreign Relations, Judiciary, and Appropriations put
members on the Select Committee on Intelligence. In the House, they
come from the committees on Armed Services, International
Relations, Judiciary, and Appropriations. Members of the 108th
Congress should be assigned to the new homeland security committees
in this fashion to ensure that they are experienced with the
programs and issues relevant to DHS. This approach could make the
reform more politically acceptable to existing committee members
who are concerned about losing oversight over some issues.
This arrangement, however, should not be
permanent or codified in the rules of the committees. Homeland
security is a national priority and is likely to remain so for the
foreseeable future; its own institutions and constituency in
Congress should be developed. When the 109th Congress convenes, the
leaderships should make assignments to the homeland security
committees in the same manner they do for other committees. Members
should be selected for their knowledge and commitment to homeland
security as an independent issue, not their experience with related
matters under the jurisdiction of other committees.
convening of a new Congress provides an opportunity for the House
and Senate leadership to streamline the legislative process for
homeland security as part of the rules process. Establishing
authorizing committees with appropriations subcommittees on
homeland security would enable the new Department of Homeland
Security to work with one central committee in each chamber.
Failure to do so will put at risk both the new department and
future homeland security efforts.
the creation of the new DHS, Congress will need to continue its
vital oversight and legislative roles in homeland security, but in
a balanced and commonsense manner. This cannot be achieved under
the current fractured committee structure.
Scardaville is Policy Analyst for Homeland Security in the
Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies
at The Heritage Foundation.