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Congress Heal Thyself – Here We Go Again

December 19, 2012 by David Olive

In this morning’s Roll Call, incoming Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee Mike McCaul (R-TX) has an op-ed admonishing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to “fix” its management problems. There is no question that DHS has a list of well-known problems that must be addressed and, but for one or two, DHS is methodically working through that list under the guidance of Under Secretary of Management Rafael Borras. (Note to Presidential Personnel – USM Borras needs to stay in place at DHS. He is doing a very good job. Some of the other folks need to go, however.)

Chairman McCaul’s commentary would have more credibility if his top order of business had been to “fix” the dysfunctional congressional management of DHS – an equally disturbing problem caused by DHS’ requirement to allow more than 100 congressional committees and subcommittees to micro-meddle in its mission.

Yet, despite the almost universal, bipartisan acknowledgment that the remaining 9-11 Commission recommendation remains unaddressed, McCaul would rather throw barbs (admittedly, most of which are well-meaning) at the folks on Nebraska Avenue instead of chiding the House leadership to consolidate oversight of DHS in McCaul’s committee.

McCaul’s predecessor, Rep. Peter King, didn’t hesitate to raise the issue whenever he got the chance. King didn’t succeed, but at least he TRIED…which is more than McCaul has done or is likely to do. Shortly after being selected to be Chair of the Homeland Security Committee, McCaul made a public statement implying that he would not raise the question of overlapping Congressional jurisdiction.

Homeland Security Newswire previously reported that McCaul plans to end the jurisdictional fights between Homeland Security and T&I, with the incoming chairman saying, “We’re not going to have turf battles in the Congress.”

He went on to propose joint hearings between his new committee and other congressional committees – a proposal that makes sense to me. But the “turf battles” comment caught a number of us by surprise.

Did Congressman McCaul really believe the current system is workable? Was he being realistic and trying to set the right “tone” for how the Committee would work? Or did he, as rumors at the time suggested, “cut a deal” with other committee chairmen who claimed some level of DHS oversight in order to secure their vote to lead the Homeland Security Committee.

Until McCaul speaks on the issue again, we won’t know what is true and what isn’t. But what we should all take away from his Roll Call op-ed today is that the new Chairman has missed a real opportunity to show leadership and tackle the oversight problem. That is a shame.

Sure, DHS needs to fix its management problems. But doing so should not be a pre-condition for Congress to resolve the “turf battles” problem that Rep. McCaul has chosen to set aside.

Congress, Heal Thyself! It should be THE top priority if it expects to engage in meaningful and effective oversight.

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