September 11, 2013 by David Olive

Another 9/11 anniversary is upon us. Looking back over the last 12 years, the United States has made a lot of progress in securing the country, countering and preventing terrorism, and building a national capacity to endure and recover from natural and manmade disasters. Much of this progress can be traced back to the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, which helped guide how the country developed and expanded its homeland security efforts. Yet, one of these recommendations has not received much action – indeed, no action at all. Congressional oversight of homeland security is as duplicative, wasteful and counterproductive as ever.

More than 100 congressional committees and subcommittees claim jurisdiction of homeland security and most have competing views of how DHS should proceed. This hinders progress and blurs accountability. Meanwhile, DHS employees spend countless hours responding to a litany of congressional requests for information, and by consequence, they are not purely focused on advancing their critical mission. This is an issue I’ve written about before, but I’m not alone in seeing this fatal flaw in America’s homeland security apparatus. Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton, the leaders of the 9/11 Commission, published an opinion piece in The New York Times calling on Congress to get its act together and streamline oversight. It is worth a read.

The unfortunate but necessary refrain stands. Congress, heal thyself. The country’s security is depending on it.

Homeland Confusion

No single event in the last half-century has had a greater effect on American national security policy than the terrorist attacks that occurred 12 years ago today. When we co-chaired the 9/11 Commission, which was set up in 2002 and issued its report on the attacks in 2004, we investigated the failures that left our country vulnerable and recommended 41 actions to correct them and strengthen our national security.

Nine years after the 9/11 Commission made its case, our country is still not as safe as it could and should be. Though the vast majority of our recommendations have been followed, at least in part, Congress has not acted on one of our major proposals: to streamline the way it oversees homeland security.

In a cumbersome legacy of the pre-9/11 era, Congress oversees the Department of Homeland Security with a welter of overlapping committees and competing legislative proposals. The department was created in 2002 out of 22 agencies and departments. More than 100 congressional committees and subcommittees currently claim jurisdiction over it. This patchwork system of supervision results in near-paralysis and a lack of real accountability. This needs to change.

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