Congress Mulls Oversight Role for DHS
WASHINGTON – A serious turf battle is brewing in the House of Representatives (search) over homeland security and the fight is expected to come to a head next week when Congress returns to work.
Right now, almost everyone in Congress has some influence on homeland security budgets and policies. That's nearly 435 lawmakers on 78 committees and subcommittees supervising some part of the homeland security budget or its policies.
As a result, almost no one is accountable.
Some lawmakers are lobbying for a simpler, more streamlined approach to congressional control.
"It's vitally important to have fresh thinking when it comes to Congress. After all, it's a two-centuries-old institution and like any ancient bureaucracy it tends to calcify," said Rep. Chris Cox, R-Calif., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee (search).
The Sept. 11 commission called for tighter congressional control of all homeland security policy.
"Oversight for homeland security is splintered among too many committees. We need a single committee in each chamber providing oversight of the Department of Homeland Security (search)," said commission vice chairman Lee Hamilton, a former Democratic congressman from Indiana.
Congress spent $40 billion on homeland security this year, but no one is really in charge of tracking the dollars and demanding results. Cox stands to gain the most from any centralization of powers.
"There are a lot of different threats we face and we cannot fund them and we have to make choices, forcing them all into one analysis is a way to economize and make sure we spend all our homeland security dollars wisely," he said.
But Rep. Don Young (search), R-Alaska, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, opposes Cox. His chairmanship puts him in charge of oversight of the Coast Guard (search) and Transportation Security Administration, which is housed in DHS. Young said his committee can fight terror and balance competing interests such as privacy rights and commerce.
"There must be a careful balance between what is necessary to protect us from those who would do us harm, and what is necessary to protect fundamental rights, economic prosperity and aviation security generally. How will a committee whose sole focus is security balance these competing interests?" Young asked.
The Sept. 11 commission warned Congress that the turf battles would come back to haunt them. Congress ordered a massive reform of the executive branch with the newly signed intelligence bill. So far, it is exempt from its own reforms.
Click in the box near the top of the story to watch a report by FOX News' Major Garrett.