Congressman calls for consolidated DHS oversight

Friday - 9/9/2011, 10:57am EDT

By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
Federal News Radio

Congressman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) is renewing his call to consolidate congressional oversight jurisdiction of the Homeland Security Department.

Thompson, the ranking member of the committee, wrote a letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) Thursday highlighting the need to have one House and one Senate authorizing committee oversee the department.

"I would note this undertaking is timely insofar as the consolidation of homeland security jurisdiction is critical to the fate of the forthcoming DHS authorization legislation that the committee is beginning to prepare," Thompson wrote.

DHS currently answers to about 108 committees ranging from its authorizing and appropriating committees to dozens of others across Congress, which have responsibilities left over from the 22 legacy agencies that made up the department before 2003.

Committee Chairman Peter King (R-N.Y.) also supports the consolidation of the jurisdiction. He said in a recent interview with Federal News Radio Congress' inability to reorganize itself is "indefensible" and "is one of the biggest failings of Congress since 9/11."

Thompson's letter follows several renewed calls by for DHS oversight consolidation in Congress by members of the 9/11 Commission. In their recent analysis of how the government has implemented their recommendations, this was one of the biggest failings.

Tom Kean, the chairman of the 9/11 Commission, said having all those committees is "confusion," not oversight. "It makes it dysfunctional. It means DHS spends so much preparing and testifying that they are not protecting us, which is their job," he said.

Along with House members, Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs leaders have tried to consolidate oversight in the past, but were not successful.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said she tried to reorganize jurisdiction in 2004, but senators added amendment after amendment to the bill that pulled their pieces of DHS out of consolidated oversight.

Thompson reminded Boehner that chairman King promised last year if the Republicans took control of the House, it would consolidate jurisdiction over DHS.

King also pledged once again to work with House leadership to make this happen.

"As the member with the longest tenure as chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security, I have keen insights about the challenges posed to the security [of] our nation by the current unwieldy jurisdictional divisions over homeland security, and, as such, am requesting to be included in your efforts to address committee jurisdiction over homeland security," Thompson wrote.

Former and current DHS officials have called for Congress to reorganize for much of the last eight years. Officials say having so many bosses is burdensome on the agency's time and resources. And lawmakers often give DHS conflicting policy direction, putting the agency in an untenable position.

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