- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 19, 2002

The laws of political physics are alive and well in this city. Congress and the president sooner or later react to each other's initiatives, seeking the constitutional ideal of balance of power between the branches. This uniquely American tug-of-war has repeated itself throughout history. The creation of a homeland security agency is no exception.
But Congress should not delay defining its oversight structure and role on this issue both for the security of the homeland and to protect the prerogatives of Congress in the ongoing debate.
Responding to President Bush's highly visible call last month to complete action on legislation creating the department, Congress commenced one of the largest government reorganizations in American history. With the legislation now signed into law, another less visible, but equally important, reshuffling begins how the House and Senate reorganize to shape policy, funding and oversight of the new agency. Taking this next step is critical to helping the administration smoothly achieve its mission. Yet, it's also essential to ensure Congress does its part in defending the nation, securing a vital role for the legislative branch in the homeland security process.
The Senate and House took different paths creating the Homeland Security Department and face distinct organizational challenges in deciding how to oversee it.
In the Senate the process is a little simpler, with a single committee normally coordinating the process. The Senate Government Reform Committee, chaired next year by Sen.Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine, will continue its oversight and policy-making for the new department. Her committee considers any legislation in the Senate aimed at reorganizing current functions or adding new requirements for homeland defense. Moreover, the ranking Democrat on the panel, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, who chaired the committee in the last Congress and played a principal role in shaping the legislation, continues as an influential player in the process.
The House structure is trickier and the jurisdictional lines among the various committees more murky. Speaker Dennis Hastert chose a wise approach in addressing these thorny questions earlier this year. He allowed numerous congressional committees with jurisdiction over parts of the homeland security bill such as Judiciary, Ways and Means, Government Reform and Transportation to shape it, and then created a special "leadership panel" chaired by Majority Leader Dick Armey to pull the various pieces together.
The procedures worked in both chambers, but it's in the House, with its multiple committees claiming jurisdiction, where reorganization is needed most.
House GOP leaders are considering a variety of reorganization proposals this week. These changes may take some time to implement, but institutionally they are important for the House to address.
The House will consider several options. The most ambitious creates a new standing panel called the Homeland Security Committee. Another proposes a select committee, composed of the chairmen and ranking members of all the committees in the House that hold jurisdiction over various parts of the new department. The final option maintains the status quo, allowing each current standing committee to address its respective piece of the new agency.
While the select committee appears the most likely, the status quo is neither in the long-term interest of the Congress nor the administration. It promises turf fights and a variety of mixed signals for those attempting to accomplish homeland security. One senior White House aide said, "Our biggest fear is that Tom Ridge is going to spend all his timing testifying before congressional committees instead of protecting the homeland."
Yet, reorganizing is equally critical to establishing Congress as a major force in homeland security policy. As one senior administration official said, "If Congress wants to be a real player and have influence in homeland security, it has to create a committee that focuses on the issue. Historically, the great powers in Congress were chairmen or influential members of a particular congressional committee that used this platform to develop an informational and influence power base to shape policy."
Protecting the power of the legislature demands this type of change. After massive growth of the federal executive branch of government, following two world wars and the creation of the New Deal, Congress beefed up its own resources by passing the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946. Congress responded again to executive branch expansion following the Great Society of the 1960s, passing another major legislative reorganization in 1970.
Each reform re-balanced co-equal branches of government that slipped out of harmony. Each guaranteed Congress continued effectively shaping and overseeing the initiatives of the president and his administration. The 108th Congress should reorganize, creating an effective structure to help the administration deal with lawmakers efficiently and to maintain its coequal role in setting future homeland security policy.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide