Federal Eye: Eye Opener: Too Much Oversight of Homeland Security?

Happy Monday! Traveling back from his bachelor party weekend through airports, The Eye recalled a Center for Public Integrity report released late last week regarding Congressional oversight of the Department Homeland Security.

Five years ago this week, the 9/11 Commission made 41 recommendations to Congress about how to track and combat terrorism. Commissioners told CPI investigators that Congress and the executive branch have enacted 80 to 90 percent of their suggestions.

“The recommendation that Congress ‘create a single, principal point of oversight and review for homeland security’ is a notable exception,” the report concludes.

DHS “is still coping with an extraordinary number of demands from Capitol Hill, which are tripping up a fledgling organization. And the crazy quilt of oversight is making it difficult for Congress to provide cogent guidance on budgeting, organization, or priorities for a department still struggling on all those fronts.”

As the chart above visually demonstrates, a 2007 analysis by Congressional Republicans found that at least 86 different House and Senate committees and subcommittees claimed some oversight of DHS. The CPI report recounts how lawmakers fought to maintain their oversight of DHS agencies that were moved from other corners of the federal bureaucracy to create the new department in 2003.

The excessive oversight means department officials spend hundreds of hours preparing for Congressional briefings or testimony:

In a typical week, DHS might handle more than 40 briefings, whether there’s a hearing scheduled or not. Some weeks, the department testifies at multiple hearings and provides upwards of 50 briefings. Top officials are careful to emphasize that they consider working with Congress a necessity and a privilege but say responding to that volume of requests consumes too much time. DHS estimates that the average testimony takes about 60 hours to prepare but that, in some cases, a single hearing can require more than 200 hours of preparation. … Particularly frustrating are the thousands of “questions for the record” sent over after hearings. DHS gets more than 3,000 such questions each year, and while some require little more than a yes-or-no answer, others demand more thorough responses.

Still, we should not anticipate a Congressional effort to merge oversight anytime soon.

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