When it comes to the subject of what citizens should be doing to improve their disaster preparedness too often the focus is solely on emergency supplies or plans. Less attention is paid to what each of us can do as citizens to improve our community’s and nation’s preparedness by participating in the political process as a citizen. So, I am always on the lookout for things that I think Americans should be telling their elected officials that would make us more prepared and secure.
One such idea — streamlining the onerous Congressional oversight of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) — was discussed in a recent National Public Radio story, “Who Oversees Homeland Security? Um, Who Doesn’t?”
Currently, there are 108 U.S. House & Senate committees, subcommittees and caucuses that get briefings or hear testimony from DHS officials on Capitol Hill. There is bipartisan agreement from Homeland Security officials from both the Bush and Obama Administrations that the present Â setup not only takes up too much time but more importantly also leads to policy confusion. Streamlining oversight was actually a recommendation of the 9/11 Commission in 2004, but no action has been forthcoming. (And, in fact, the number of congressional panels has gone up from 86 to the current 108 since then.) According to the NPR piece:
Advocates of streamlining, including Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) who chairs the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, say there is a perfectly good model for overseeing the sprawling Department of Homeland Security. It’s the way the Congress oversees the Defense Department.
“We have one Senate Armed Services Committee,” he says. “It oversees the entire Department of Defense, which has a budget, oh probably 15 times the size of the DHS budget. So this is doable.”
Despite the bipartisan agreement that the current oversight does not serve the nation’s security or preparedness, Lieberman told NPR he doesn’t expect any action. That is, he says, unless the president and the Homeland Security secretary choose to make a big issue of it.
Or, I would add, if individual citizens also tell their elected representatives they support a change.
The 108 Congressional committees, subcommittees and caucuses that officials from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security must report to (Graphic: Adrienne Wollman/NPR)