People look at former Gov. Tom Kean in disbelief when he says the U.S. Department of Homeland Security reports to about 100 congressional committees and subcommittees.
Kean, the former head of the 9/11 Commission, received the same reaction from radio host Brian Lehrer on Aug. 30 when discussing counter-terrorism efforts as the country approaches the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
During the WNYC broadcast from Montclair State University, Lehrer asked Kean about a May 2010 article on NJ.com, in which Kean is quoted as saying "Homeland Security spends way too much of its time reporting to the 100 congressional subcommittees that claim some type of jurisdiction."
Lehrer asked Kean, "Is it really a hundred or were you just kind of using an expression?"
Kean responded: "I wish I was. No, it’s about a hundred…Believe it or not, if you can imagine this, let’s say you’re (U.S. Homeland Security Secretary) Janet Napolitano and you’ve been given a job of running Homeland Security. In other words, protecting all of us.
"And all of sudden, you find out you’re reporting to a hundred different committees and subcommittees in (the) United States Congress. And you’re spending at least a third of your time preparing testimony or testifying, you and your top deputies. That’s a third of your time you’re not spending protecting us. This is dysfunctional."
That may be dysfunctional, but it’s also true. PolitiFact New Jersey discovered Kean was right -- Homeland Security must report to 108 congressional committees and subcommittees, according to the department.
Between Jan. 1 and Aug. 26, Homeland Security officials testified at 120 hearings and provided about 1,809 briefings to congressional offices, according to department records.
Napolitano also has expressed concern with her department’s level of congressional oversight.
"This often results in our principals and their staff spending more time responding to congressional requests and requirements than executing their mandated homeland security responsibilities," Napolitano wrote in an April 2010 letter to U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-NY).
The number of congressional eyeballs on Homeland Security operations has been subject to continued criticism in the years since the department was formed. Created slightly more than a year after Sept. 11, Homeland Security combined all or part of 22 different federal departments and agencies.
According to its July 2004 report, the 9/11 Commission recommended reforming congressional oversight of Homeland Security, which was then answering to 88 committees and subcommittees. A few months later, a report from a group of former legislators and other individuals noted that oversight of the U.S. Department of Defense was much different.
"In comparison, the Department of Defense, with a budget that is more than ten times greater than DHS, reports to only 36 committees and subcommittees in the House and the Senate," according to that December 2004 report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies and Business Executives for National Security.
Following the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission and another federal panel, Congress took "a few incremental steps," such as forming the House Homeland Security Committee, according to a December 2008 report from the Commission on the Prevention of WMD Proliferation and Terrorism.
But that report said "the creation of these new committees (and subcommittees) did nothing to streamline the number of congressional panels to which DHS must respond."
More criticism of Homeland Security’s oversight came as recently as last week, when Kean and other members of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s National Security Preparedness Group -- a follow-up to the 9/11 Commission -- issued a "report card" on the status of the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations.
That report card said "too many committees have concurrent and overlapping jurisdiction. This is a recipe for confusion."
King, chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, pledged in a Sept. 1 press release to continue working with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and other House leaders to reform congressional oversight of Homeland Security.
As unbelievable as it may sound to his listeners, Kean accurately states that Homeland Security answers to about 100 congressional committees and subcommittees. It’s a level of oversight that has attracted the criticism of various entities and the Homeland Security Secretary herself.
We rate the statement True.
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