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Hearings on Implementing Sept. 11 Panel Recommendations

 
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DMCKEON
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 16, 2008 9:13 pm    Post subject: Hearings on Implementing Sept. 11 Panel Recommendations
From Wed Jul 16, 2008 3:00 am to Sat Jul 19, 2008 2:59 am (included)
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CQ HOMELAND SECURITY
July 15, 2008


Hearings on Implementing Sept. 11 Panel Recommendations Will Look Ahead
to Transition
By Rob Margetta, CQ Staff

A month long series of hearings that kicked off Tuesday will examine the
Department of Homeland Security*s progress in implementing several
recommendations from the Sept. 11 commission.

Bennie Thompson, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee,
said all of the proceedings will have a common goal: ensuring a smooth
presidential transition.

And the commission*s members themselves offered a suggestion for
Congress: act on the recommendation that calls for consolidation of DHS
oversight.

*This will be the first real new administration for DHS, Democrat or
Republican, so we think it would be good to look back to see where we
are,* said Thompson, D-Miss, noting that a safe transition was one of
the commission*s highest priorities. *We will be looking especially
closely at the issue of staffing and retention, so that the department
can, in effect, function while still in transition. Issues such as
national disasters and terrorist attacks won*t go on recess.*

To give the next administration an idea of DHS*s current status,
House Homeland and its subcommittees will examine several requirements
of the department listed in the 2007 legislation (PL 110-53) based on
the commission's findings. Thus far, Thompson said, progress has not
been satisfactory.

In written statements he provided for a pair of subcommittee hearings
held Tuesday, he criticized the lateness of the National Emergency
Communications Plan and rules pertaining to cargo security. Thompson
said he will have similar commentary for a Thursday hearing featuring
DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff testifying on border security.

*We spent an awful lot of money on border security, but we don*t
have a border security plan,* Thompson said. *Some say a physical
fence, some say a virtual fence . . . but when we try to come up with
the plan, we can*t get the department to come up with a document that
says *This is it.**

The individual cases are examples of a problem with deadlines at DHS,
Thompson said, partially attributing the problem to a lack of
prioritization of the Sept. 11 commission legislation.

*One of the things we have been, I think, is generous with the
department in setting reasonable timetables,* he said. *What we*ve
found, though, is a lack of a department plan to meet those timetables,
so it*s always a rush.*

The commission*s vice-chairman agreed with Thompson*s assessment.

*There needs to be a much greater sense of urgency,* said Lee
Hamilton, a former Democratic congressman from Indiana (1965-99) and
current president and director of the Woodrow Wilson International
Center for Scholars. *There has been progress . . . but it has not
been sufficient, at least for me. I am concerned that [DHS] has had
trouble recruiting, training, retaining employees. I think robust
oversight of the Department of Homeland Security is certainly
appropriate and needed. All of us have a stake in DHS becoming a more
effective force in protecting the American people.*

Hamilton*s fellow commissioners, including former Democratic Sen. Bob
Kerrey of Nebraska (1989-2001), agreed that checking in on DHS*s
progress regularly is a worthwhile exercise.

*I think it*s good to do it periodically,* said Kerrey, currently
the president of the New School University in New York City.

Other hearings in the month long series include two Wednesday, on
bio-surveillance and the visa waiver program, as well as about a
half-dozen others in the coming weeks on topics such as the National
Domestic Preparedness Consortium and the first Quadrennial Homeland
Security Review. Thompson said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has
asked his committee to draft an anniversary report summarizing DHS*
progress in meeting the commission legislation*s requirements.

Congress, Heal Thyself

While the Sept. 11 commissioners agreed with Thompson that the hearings
are a good idea, they also said that if Congress wants to find an
example of flagrant disregard for their recommendations, it needs only
to look in the mirror.

They said Congress seems to have ignored a crucial recommendation in
their report: consolidate DHS oversight to one authorizing committee and
one appropriations subcommittee in each chamber.

*Congress needs to establish for the Department of Homeland Security
the kind of clear authority and responsibility that exist to enable the
Justice Department to deal with crime and the Defense Department to deal
with threats to national security,* the report said.

Almost four years after the publication of that report, the
commissioners said they are disappointed at Congress* lack of
progress.

*I hope they*ll take a look at the action that Congress is supposed
to take, because I don*t know that they*ve done anything,* Kerrey
said.

Kerrey said the committee did not make any *low priority*
recommendations; the advice to consolidate required action as immediate
as anything else in the document.

*I think it*s impossible to imagine the executive recommendations
being fulfilled if the legislative ones aren't,* he said. *The
amount of time it takes to comply with congressional requests is
enormous. Congress is out of compliance automatically.*

Eight-six committees and subcommittees, including the Senate Special
Committee on Aging to the House Small Business Committee, have oversight
authority of DHS. Over the past few years, the issue has come up in
hearings and official letters with increasing frequency, usually
involving Republicans (and some Democrats) calling for cutting the
number of committees, while Democrats respond that the Republicans had
two years in the majority to make the change and didn't.

Hamilton said that just because DHS needs to step up its performance
doesn't let Congress off the hook.

*When you have that many committees and subcommittees to report to,
it's an absurdity,* he said. *Congress has to get its part in
order, too.*

Slade Gorton, (1989-2001), a former GOP senator from Washington who was
the lone Republican on the Sept. 11 commission who had served in
Congress, concurred.

*Adopting the commission*s recommendations directed at Congress
itself is by far its greatest failure and should be its most urgent
goal,* said Gorton, now counsel at the firm of Preston Gates & Ellis.

Thompson, who in the past has said that DHS is so fragile that it
required as much oversight as possible, said Tuesday that this issue of
*not just oversight but jurisdiction on a whole* is something that
Congress has to work on.

*It will be addressed . . . to the leadership in the House, and I am
banking that it will continue to Speaker Pelosi,* he said. *When you
hear Department of Agriculture, you know what committee, when you hear
Department of Defense, you know what committee has primary oversight if
not total oversight.*

But he said that the oversight issue, which often comes up in hearing
testimony, has become somewhat of a catchall excuse for DHS whenever it
is criticized for lack of progress, one that never came up in the two
years a Republican majority had to act on it.

*When Democrats were the minority and Republicans were in the
majority, we never once heard that in response,* he said. *They
never addressed jurisdiction. To some degree, the department is using
the same talking points that the minority members of the committee are
using. And that*s fine, but you can*t have one answer when the
Democrats are in the minority and another when Democrats are in the
majority.*

Consolidation of oversight came up in a DHS reaction to the month of
House Homeland hearings.

*Any time Congress asks us to testify, of course, we will oblige,*
spokeswoman Laura Keehner said. *We continue to work on implementation
of the 9/11 Commission Act. Of course, this would also be a good time
for Congress to work on the last recommendation of the act . . .
consolidating jurisdiction.*
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