David Olive

Mar 2

At a time when Congress is looking to cut federal spending, why won’t it eliminate the “waste” caused by its own dysfunctional DHS oversight? The apparent answer is that is it far easier to talk about reforming someone else than oneself.

What other conclusion can be drawn from the reaction to the just-released GAO report on costly, duplicative and questionable federal agencies and programs?

Republican budget hawks littered the traditional and social media with example after example of “waste” that could be eliminated by halting duplicative programs. Democrats were just as quick to point out that President Obama had identified many of these same programs as areas where savings could be found, even using the food safety regulations example the President mentioned in his State of the Union address.

What the Congressional bloviators seem to ignore is Congress’ own culpability in creating many of these duplicative programs. The perfect place to address this issue, should they choose to look inside their own house first, is the mishmash of congressional committees that claim jurisdiction over DHS. It remains an area ripe for reform.

The problem is more acute in the House than in the Senate because, due to its size, there are more opportunities for congressional meddling. But the House is where the “smaller government” reform movement is getting its impetus from its newest members, and there is no reason to wait.

The House freshmen class ought to place “fixing the congressional oversight of DHS” issue on its agenda as the current FY11 and FY12 budget debate evolves. The savings to Congress and DHS would be in the millions of dollars – and greater efficiency and better oversight would ensue.

Congress complains about reining in executive branch spending. Yet, Congress has not shown the same willingness to rein in its own members’ thirst for jurisdictional turf. Speaker Boehner had an excellent opportunity to address the issue at the beginning of this congressional session but took a pass – just as Speaker Pelosi did before him. Both should be ashamed that this remaining, but still important, recommendation of the 9-11 Commission has not been adopted.

Even the President has a perfect opportunity to “one-up” Congress on eliminating wasteful spending. The White House should push back and tell Congress to start with itself.

Pending that, perhaps Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) could ask for a GAO or Congressional Research Service study about congressional spending on duplicative oversight, just as he asked for the GAO report released this week. Senator Coburn, a well-respected physician, would gain a lot more credibility with the public if he were to apply the same oath he took as a doctor to his congressional mission – do no harm.

It is beyond time for Congress to stop the “harm” it has allowed through duplicative oversight and for it to adopt a “Heal Thyself” attitude. Short of that, Congress should identify and disclose the true “cost” to taxpayers of the system it has created and then explain the “benefit” taxpayers get from the current DHS oversight system.

The challenge of addressing these problems might best be summarized by a bumper sticker I saw this morning: “I love my country. It’s the government I don’t understand.”

This piece was originally posted in Security Debrief.


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