There has been a noticeable and disappointing lack of significant or meaningful change on Capitol Hill since the 2001 terrorist attacks.
It has become a cliché to say that Sept. 11, 2001, changed everything. Unfortunately, one could argue that the terrorist attacks actually changed less than we expected. One could argue that relations among partisan politicians have changed little — or that the divisions have grown deeper. That divisiveness has had an impact on the business of government.
There has been a noticeable and disappointing lack of significant or meaningful change on Capitol Hill. In the past five years, lawmakers have conducted numerous oversight hearings about what has or has not been done to protect the country from future terrorist attacks. Yet lawmakers have largely failed to take the powerful step of leading by example.
The 9/11 Commission’s report included a recommendation that Congress strengthen its oversight of intelligence and homeland security. As part of that effort, the commission recommended that Congress “create a single, principal point of oversight and review for homeland security.”
Last year the commission noted that “of all our recommendations, strengthening congressional oversight may be among the most difficult and important. Few things are more difficult to change in Washington than congressional committee jurisdiction and prerogatives.”
We agree that it is a difficult task, but it is also vitally important. Some of the changes that can go a long way toward making the country safer involve sharing information across organizations. Agencies still do not have an adequate framework for such cooperation. In part, that is because the oversight and budget processes are designed to discourage agencies from working together.
The constant underfunding of e-government initiatives is perhaps the most obvious example of how the budget process undermines agencies’ efforts. But if lawmakers worked together and looked at the budget in a more holistic way, agencies would be more likely to act cooperatively. And finding new ways of doing business can bring tremendous benefits that go beyond homeland security.
The Bush administration has made great strides toward getting agencies to adopt governmentwide systems, but those efforts still face the difficult task of overcoming an ingrained organizational structure that seems to emphasize divisions.
As the lack of a unified response to Hurricane Katrina illustrated a year ago, those divisions can have a dramatic impact on people’s lives.
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