The disparate congressional oversight of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) through multiple committees is preventing necessary legislation from getting passed by Congress, including a proposal to reorganize one of the department’s directorates to strengthen its cyber security operating mission, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee said on Wednesday.
In June the committee passed the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Protection Agency Act (H.R. 5390) to restructure the current DHS National Protection and Programs Directorate to recognize that it is an operating agency but “I cannot get that passed in the Congress right now,” Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said during an appearance as part of a homeland security panel at the Bipartisan Policy Center.
McCaul, like other chairman of the committee before him, complained that his panel lacks comprehensive oversight of DHS. Instead, dozens, if not more than 100 congressional committees and subcommittees in the House and Senate, have responsibility for authorizing department policy, missions and organization.
The 9/11 Commission, which reported on the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and provided Congress and the executive branch with a list of recommendations to bolster the nation’s preparedness for homeland security, called for putting authorizing oversight of DHS in one committee in each the House and Senate.
When DHS stood up in 2003, it was cobbled together from 22 different departments and agencies, most of which were overseen and funded by different congressional committees. Since then, little has been done to rectify the jurisdiction issues.
The Senate has a much cleaner process with its oversight of DHS with most of the authorizing functions held by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. The exception in that chamber is oversight of DHS’ Transportation Security Administration, which the Commerce Committee oversees.
Before Thanksgiving, McCaul introduced a new bill entitled the DHS Reform and Improvement Act (H.R. 6381), which appears to consolidate a number of bills such as the CIPA Act, visa security, and others, as well as touch on other matters.
After the new bill was introduced, it was referred to nine other committees, McCaul said.
“How in the world can I get anything done as chairman?” McCaul said. “It needs to be fixed once and for all.” Earlier in the discussion, McCaul said of the myriad homeland security jurisdictions in Congress that it “Paralyzes the department from its core mission of protecting the American people,” adding that it is “dysfunctional” for both Congress and DHS.
McCaul early next year plans to offer an amendment to the Rules package that spells out committee jurisdictions and responsibilities in the House. McCaul said he wants the House Homeland Security Committee to have “principal oversight” of DHS.
McCaul’s staff is currently meeting with Republican members of the House to “educate” them on the jurisdiction issues, a committee aide told Defense Daily. The aide said that many of the members are “surprised” by the tangled oversight of DHS.
The amendment will likely be offered when the Republican conference considers the Rules package in January.
McCaul told the panel that he thinks he has the support of the chairmen of the various committees in the House that deal with national security for his proposal.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, who also appeared on the panel with McCaul, complained as well about the time he and his department are consumed by reporting to multiple congressional committees. He said DHS reports to between 92 and 108 congressional committees and subcommittees.
Johnson said that since January 2015, 299 DHS officials have testified in 208 hearings, and attended 4,010 non-hearing congressional meetings. Johnson has testified 26 times in his three years running DHS, he said.
While the hearings and meetings keep “us very, very busy,” Johnson said “the biggest challenge” is the difficulty in getting Congress to approve an authorization bill because “multiple committees want a piece of it.”