NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Congressional Homeland Defense Reform

June 11, 2002

President Bush's plan to create a new Department of Homeland Security has drawn praise from many observers, but caution from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Congress must do more than merely reorganize the 22 federal agencies currently charged with disparate and overlapping security responsibility. It must also reform its own Byzantine committee structures, because who controls the purse strings makes a real and potentially calamitous difference.

  • There are currently 88 separate committees and subcommittees in the House and Senate that have homeland security oversight.
  • The lack of coordination between these committees and subcommittees is such that there are now 9 different appropriations subcommittees, each with competing interests and missions.
  • The FBI, for instance, reports to the Judiciary Committee, which deals with domestic crime, not to the Intelligence Committee, which deals with terrorism.
  • The Customs Service is funded by the Treasury-Postal appropriations subcommittees, which have no anti-terrorism mission -- while the Coast Guard is funded by the Transportation subcommittees, which have no involvement with defense.

There is little cooperation between the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which is at Justice, and Customs, which is at Treasury. International air passengers are checked by both, but incredibly the two agencies have separate computer systems and rarely communicate with each other.

A new cabinet secretary could not report to 88 different panels and chairmen with their various, sometimes conflicting agendas. Rather, Gingrich suggests, he should report to only one authorizing committee in each house and only one appropriations subcommittee.

Unfortunately, public policy reform may run into a wall when members of Congress contemplate losing some of their own authority.

Source: Newt Gingrich, "Congress's Tangled Purse Strings," Wall Street Journal, June 10, 2002.


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