David Olive

Dec 3, 2010

“Charity Begins at Home, but Should Not End There.”
–    Thomas Fuller

As the stories of how Representative Darrel Issa (R-CA49), who is expected to be chair the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee next year, plans to implement the Blueprint for Oversight of the Executive Branch, I could not help but be reminded of the Thomas Fuller quote about charity beginning at home – or in this case, more precisely, in the House (of Representatives). I can think of no better starting place than the inefficient, duplicative and overly-complex manner in which Congress itself oversees the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

In talking at a National Procurement and Grant Fraud Conference in Philadelphia recently, Congressman Issa talked about the necessity of exposing and eliminating wasteful, duplicative programs. He said:

“If we’re going to have my committee, which includes the term ‘reform’ in it, be able to do its job, we’re going to need sources of waste that go beyond corruption,” he said. “Sources of waste that go into the question of why do we have, even within one Cabinet position, seven or eight different groups doing the same thing … to find opportunities where between the cracks, between different agencies, the same money is being spent when it only needs to be spent once.”

Read his words carefully and think of what Congress itself could do to clean up the mess it created in having well over 100 committees and subcommittees who claim a piece of DHS oversight. Why indeed do we have “seven or eight (or one hundred) different groups doing the same thing?”

The necessity of reforming the labyrinth of congressional DHS oversight is abundantly clear to everyone (without regard to political party) outside of the Members of Congress themselves, who might lose “turf” in streamlining oversight. From the 9-11 Commission recommendation to a recent Heritage Foundation report, the mish-mash of congressional meddling is creating a serious crisis in the ability of DHS to do its job protecting the nation. This is because of the demands of congressional overseers for reports, testimony and answers to nit-picking constituent inquiries.  

One of the top House Appropriations members, Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY5), in calling for a $100 million cut in the DHS budget believes that the savings he seeks can be found from the elimination of “duplicative programs.” How much of the work done by the DHS Policy shop and Management office could be eliminated if the individuals working there could focus on something other than responding to congressional intermeddlers? Rep. Rogers would have a lot more credibility on this issue, at least with me, if he were to start asking some tough questions of his House colleagues about the duplicative congressional oversight costs to DHS.

Rep. Issa, in speaking specifically to the Inspectors General in the audience in Philadelphia, said:

“You’ve got to be the people that say the emperor has no clothes if the emperor has no clothes,” he added. “And in fact, in government, the emperor has no clothes a lot.”

I think he’s got it exactly right, and I trust that he or one of his reform-minded colleagues will preach that message within their own ranks first.

Charity begins at home, Thomas Fuller reminds us. It is past time for Congress to heal itself from the chaos it has created in the name of oversight.

This piece was originally posted on Security Debrief.


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