Nearly a decade after the 9/11 Commission issued its report on the greatest act of terrorism on U.S. soil, one of its most significant recommendations has not been acted upon. The call for consolidated Congressional oversight of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is, in the words of Commission co-chair Thomas H. Kean, “maybe the toughest recommendation” because Congress does not usually reform itself.
The Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands and the Aspen Institute’s Justice & Society Program convened at Sunnylands a task force (listed below) of distinguished current and former members of Congress, executive branch and DHS officials, and other homeland security experts to review this recommendation and recommend a strategy going forward.
In a powerful report released on September 11, 2013, the task force warns “While the failure to reform DHS oversight may be invisible to the public, it is not without consequence or risk. Fragmented jurisdiction impedes DHS’ ability to deal with three major vulnerabilities: the threats posed by small aircraft and boats; cyberattacks; and biological weapons.”
Specific recommendations of the Sunnylands-Aspen Institute task force include:
- DHS should have an oversight structure similar to other critical departments, such as Defense and Justice.
- Congressional committees with jurisdiction over DHS should have overlapping membership.
- DHS should have an authorization bill giving the department clear direction from Congress.
Membership of the Task Force on Streamlining and Consolidating Congressional Oversight of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security includes Arif Alikhan, Thad Allen, Howard Berman, Michael Chertoff, David Dreier, Bob Graham, Lee H. Hamilton, Juliette Kayyem, Thomas H. Kean Sr., Rep. Loretta Sanchez, John Tanner, Caryn A. Wagner, and Kenneth L. Wainstein. Meryl Justin Chertoff and Kathleen Hall Jamieson coordinated the work of the task force.
In an op-ed published in the New York Times and the International Herald Tribune on 9/11/2013, Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, co-chairs of the 9/11 Commission and task force members, call for Congress to reform itself and "consolidate primary responsibility for the Department of Homeland Security in the House and Senate." In so doing, they contend that while gaps in oversight will be closed and enormous amounts of time and budget will be saved, the American people will "get the security they want and need."