WASHINGTON – Congressional oversight of the Homeland Security Department (search) is "dysfunctional" and must be fundamentally changed to ensure Americans are protected, according to a report issued Friday by former House Speaker Tom Foley and retired Sen. Warren Rudman.
At least 412 of the 435 House members and all 100 senators have some form of jurisdiction over the agency, inevitably leading to confusion and duplication, the former lawmakers said.
"The Department of Homeland Security is still responsible to everyone — which makes it accountable to no one," Foley and Rudman said in the report.
A total of 79 committees and subcommittees have jurisdiction over the 2-year-old department, which combined more than 170,000 employees from 22 departments and agencies.
Foley, D-Wash., and Rudman, R-N.H., called on the House and Senate to create single standing committees with jurisdiction over all aspects of homeland security.
As a first step, the House should make permanent the Select Committee on Homeland Security that was set up after the agency was established, speakers said at a forum sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Rep. Christopher Cox, R-Calif., who chairs that panel said he was confident the House would do so. Both House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., support a permanent panel, Cox said.
Cox and other speakers said merely creating a permanent committee will not solve the oversight problem. The panel must be given broad authority over the Homeland Security Department, similar to the House Armed Services Committee's authority over the Pentagon, to ensure accountability, he said.
"If all we do is add one more committee, we will have made the problem worse," he said.
Foley agreed, but said convincing members of Congress to give up power will not be easy.
"Change in this area is very difficult" said Foley, who served as speaker from 1989 to 1995. "People have very personal investment in their committee assignments; it becomes an integral part of their service."
Even if the House makes the change, the Senate may not follow. Senators rejected the Sept. 11 commission's (search) recommendation for congressional oversight in October and adopted their own plan.
The Senate plan would eliminate term limits on the Intelligence Committee and strengthen its powers; rename the Government Affairs Committee the Homeland Security Committee and give it additional oversight; and create a new intelligence subcommittee under the Appropriations Committee.
Senators on other committees protected their turf by ensuring that agencies such as the Secret Service, Transportation Security Agency and Coast Guard would not be under the new Homeland Security Committee.