While many people on Capitol Hill are scratching their head trying to figure out what last week’s election results mean, there is one thing that the House and Senate Republican leadership can do now – and it is the perfect time to do it! What is that, you ask dear reader? Fixing the structure that has been the morass of congressional oversight of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
Some of us have been asking Congress for many years to streamline the DHS oversight structure that has resulted in somewhere between 88 and 118 committees, subcommittees and other government bodies having jurisdiction over the Department. To date, nothing has been done. Yet, this is one of the few times since DHS was created that the same political party has controlled the White House and both houses of Congress. Consolidated oversight is an issue that has elicited bipartisan support in the past and would likely receive it in the upcoming session too.
The congressional oversight function is the Constitutional mechanism by which the Legislative branch keeps the Executive in check. The term “checks and balances” in the Constitution does not refer to banking transactions. But as even the most casual observer knows, the level of oversight varies depending upon which political party controls Congress and which controls the Executive. It is often more common for members of Congress to intensify their oversight activity when the opposite political party sits in the White House and to back off that intensity when they are of the same party.
Does President-elect Trump really want his homeland security (and, in particular, immigration) proposals reviewed by close to 100 congressional committees? I suspect not. And that may create the tipping point for moving this issue from the “policy proposal position” to the “look at what we enacted” stage. Not only is it good politics—as I and many others have said—it helps improve the nation’s security.
Members of the Trump transition team ought to look at this issue and include DHS oversight streamlining in the President-elect’s initial congressional legislative requests. In fact, they don’t have to spend a lot of time looking for someone who understands the issue. One of the earliest voices calling for DHS congressional oversight consolidation was James Carafano, who is leading the State Department component of the Trump Transition. In October 2004, he wrote:
“Congress’s failure to consolidate oversight of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is the single greatest obstacle to creating an efficient and effective Department…Congress’s inability to address its homeland security responsibilities was conspicuously noted in the 9/11 Commission’s final report. Among the Commission’s priorities for enhancing the nation’s capacity to protect itself against terrorist threats was a pointed recommendation that both the House and Senate must establish single committees with complete oversight responsibility over all matters pertaining to DHS.”
Carafano was right and the obstacle he described back then can be removed by quick congressional action once and for all. Now is the perfect time to do so!