April 15, 2004
By James Jay Carafano, Ph.D.
January, the fledgling House Select Committee on Homeland Security
announced that it would pen an authorization bill for the disparate
programs consolidated under the new Department of Homeland Security
(DHS) and the plethora of fresh initiatives undertaken by the DHS.
This is an important effort. Currently, congressional oversight of
the department is piecemeal. A well-crafted oversight bill could
offer more coherent statutory supervision of the DHS, as well as an
opportunity to reconsider the entire authorization process for
national security spending.
The war on terrorism will be a protracted conflict, and
homeland security needs a department structured to produce
effective policies and programs for the long term. Thus, the
authorization bill should focus on oversight of personnel issues,
critical mission areas, research and development programs, and
information technology (IT) investments that will serve as the
foundation for the department's success.
Education and Training. One of the
greatest challenges in building a homeland security system is
developing leaders with the right skills and attributes. The
national homeland security strategy provides a clear mandate for
the DHS to develop a national training program in homeland
security. Authorization legislation should require the department
to publish a training strategy, report on the status of its
programs, and evaluate how to use training to measure both national
preparedness and the effectiveness of readiness programs at all
levels of government.
Unity of Effort for Key Strategic
Missions. The Government Performance and Results Act of 1993
requires agencies to prepare annual performance plans that describe
and measure progress toward quantifiable goals. In the maritime
domain, the Coast Guard, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the
Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, and the Transportation
Security Agency have significant responsibilities. The
authorization bill should require the DHS to link the performance
measures of these three subordinate agencies to ensure creation of
a comprehensive maritime security regime. The DHS could link
similar areas that cut across multiple DHS agencies to gain the
efficiencies of combining agencies under a single department.
Oversight of BioWatch and Other
Acquisition Initiatives. The national homeland security strategy
directs that developing technologies to respond to the threat of
weapons of mass destruction be an important part of the DHS
mission. Within DHS, the new Science and Technology Directorate
directs these technology initiatives while also managing
BioWatch--a national early warning system for detecting biological
agents, primarily through routine air sampling in major urban
However, this could be a bad precedent.
The directorate needs to focus on its primary mission of developing
and acquiring new technologies, not on managing operational
programs. The authorization bill should require the DHS to develop
a plan to transform BioWatch into a DHS organization with an
operational mission, like FEMA. This plan could also serve as model
for transitioning other DHS technology initiatives as they become
Tracking Chimera. The Enhanced Border
Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002 requires the integration
of all data systems related to visa issuance and monitoring into
Chimera, an interoperable, interagency computer-based data
management system. The law assigns the DHS primary responsibility
for developing an overarching information architecture to share
immigration and intelligence data and calls for creation of an
eight-member commission to oversee Chimera.
authorization bill should require the DHS to report on its
progress. In fact, Congress needs to monitor all of the
department's key IT initiatives more proactively. Historically,
federal IT programs suffer from ballooning costs and poor
performance unless they are well-structured and expertly managed by
Oversight of National Security
When writing the homeland security authorization bill,
Congress should reconsider the reauthorization process for the full
scope of critical national security programs. Under current law,
Congress must pass a Department of Defense (DOD) authorization bill
every year. Historically, this has been appropriate because
national security was focused solely on defeating America's enemies
overseas. However, September 11 made it abundantly clear that
security at home is equally vital. The magnitude of these dual
challenges underscores the need for Congress to pay equal attention
to both missions. Homeland security is simply too important to be
pushed to the legislative sidelines for years at a time.
the other hand, given the numerous "must pass" bills that Congress
already faces each year, requiring passage of an annual DHS
authorization bill might be too much. One alternative is to
reauthorize homeland security and defense spending biannually: Each
Congress could pass a DOD authorization bill in one session and a
DHS authorization bill in the other.
Considering the demands facing Congress,
biannual authorization bills would be a realistic approach to
focusing the lawmakers' attention and balancing oversight of the
DHS and the DOD. Biannual bills would provide greater opportunity
for the two departments to implement new congressional directives
effectively while allowing Congress more time to evaluate how well
the respective departments are implementing statutory guidance.
They could also bring additional legislative stability and
predictability to the annual appropriations for the two
departments. Finally, a new authorization process could encourage
the House and Senate to establish permanent homeland security
The authorization process could significantly improve
congressional oversight of the programs that protect Americans
against global terrorism. To improve this process, Congress
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. James Dean, Deputy Director of
Government Relations, Foreign and Defense Policy, at The Heritage
Foundation, contributed to this report.
A reauthorization bill for the disparate programs consolidatedunder the Department of Homeland Security, as well as the freshinitiatives undertaken by the DHS, is an important effort. Awell-crafted oversight bill could offer more coherent statutorysupervision of the DHS, as well as an opportunity to reconsider theentire authorization process for national security spending.
James Jay Carafano, Ph.D.
Vice President, Foreign and Defense Policy Studies, E. W. Richardson Fellow, and Director
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