Take the recently proposed legislation to revise America’s approach to biological threats. It had to go through eight different committees in the House of Representatives alone. Such needless delay can be costly, and not just in terms of money.
Nor is this is a new problem. Consider what happened in 2006 when three Senate committees -- Commerce, Finance, and Homeland Security -- tried to handle a port security bill. “We had almost identical bills for port security coming out of each committee,” one former chief counsel told the Center for Public Integrity. “For 30 straight days, we were locked up in a room from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. arguing about jurisdiction.”
It can also be about bragging rights. “Any committee that has any part of jurisdiction is going to try to assert it, in order to get a shot on the news back home,” says Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., of the House Homeland Security committee. “Congress is like kids in school; you have to have rules.”
A complete overhaul is necessary. One obvious solution is to follow the way that Congress reformed oversight of the Department of Defense, which has a similar mission, and (as noted above) a much larger budget. Oversight could be pared down to exactly six committees, three in the Senate and three in the House.
Surely the Department of Homeland Security has enough of a challenge preventing the next terrorist attack. Why force it to waste time and money surviving a gauntlet of pointless and redundant oversight? As we mark the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, let’s finally take the steps necessary to fix this problem.
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