House adopts new DHS oversight regime

House Committee on Homeland Security

A temporary select House committee, established two years ago to oversee the Homeland Security Department, became permanent this month. Achieving permanency ends turf battles with other committees, though some jurisdictional questions linger.

Rep. Christopher Cox, (R-Calif.), who has been chairman of the select committee since its inception and who will lead the new committee, issued a statement saying the changes represent "the most significant reorganization of national security jurisdiction in the Congress in 58 years."

Reactions to the reorganization have been largely positive. James Carafano, senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, said the result will be a stronger panel able to recruit and retain better staff. But Carafano said it would be premature to say whether jurisdiction questions will disappear because gray areas remain. Other committees that have had oversight over DHS might still retain jurisdiction in some

areas, he said.

"It's really a question of how that's all going to play out," Carafano said. "Some committees will play nice, some committees won't." Committee members will still encounter jurisdictional gray areas and "will wind up going to the Rules Committee for a position on who has jurisdiction," he said.

The fact that the new committee appears to have limited jurisdiction over the Coast Guard is troubling, Carafano said. On the whole, however, the reorganization is a positive step, he said.

Until now, DHS officials answered to as many as 88 House committees claiming jurisdiction over the department. The situation made it especially difficult for senior departmental officials to do their jobs. DHS Secretary Tom Ridge said in testimony last September that the department's senior leadership had testified 140 times before congressional committees in 2003.

"We expect and respect the oversight," Ridge said at the time, adding that lawmakers and department officials could have "a much more effective partnership and more vigorous oversight if the jurisdictions were compressed."

Julia Susman, president and chief executive officer of Jefferson Consulting Group, said DHS officials are still grappling with the problem of consolidating information systems, achieving interoperability and collaborating on an intra- and interagency basis.

Oversight from a single committee will help department officials better manage DHS, Susman said, and develop clear policy guidance for the 22 agencies that make up the department.

Recipe for success

House members have adopted changes in the way they will oversee homeland security in the 109th Congress.

The changes create a standing Homeland Security Committee, whose jurisdiction includes:

* Overall homeland security policy with a focus on national policies affecting the federal government.

* The Homeland Security Department's internal administration.

* Border and port security, except immigration policy and nonborder enforcement.

* Customs, except customs revenue.

* Integration, analysis and dissemination of homeland security information.

* Domestic preparation and response to terrorist attacks.

* Research and development.

* Transportation security.

Source: House Rules Committee

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