Former DHS Secretaries Urge Senate to Reform Homeland Security Oversight

Two former Secretaries of Homeland Security urged the Senate to pass the first-ever reauthorization bill for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which would aim to streamline congressional oversight of the department, steps proposed by the Sunnylands-Aspen Institute Task Force, which was formed in partnership with the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC).

In a March 19, 2018, letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.), former DHS Secretaries Michael Chertoff and Jeh Johnson advocated for creation of a commission including members of both Houses to study and recommend ways to consolidate oversight of DHS.

Former DHS Secretaries Michael Chertoff and Jeh Johnson. Credit: DHS/Barry Bahler.
Former DHS Secretaries Michael Chertoff and Jeh Johnson. Credit: DHS/Barry Bahler.

The 16-year-old department is overseen by “a jumble of overlapping committees, subcommittees, caucuses and groups,” Chertoff and Johnson wrote. In the 112th Congress, DHS answered to 92 committees and subcommittees and 27 additional groups.

“This is a critical matter of homeland security, as to which there is broad bipartisan agreement,” the two former DHS secretaries wrote. They added: “Our nation today faces significant challenges to its homeland security through cyberwarfare, election hacking, and other threats. Congress and DHS must work in tandem to protect the nation… We cannot afford to have congressional oversight that is dispersed and conflicting.”

Streamlining oversight was a key recommendation of the 2013 Sunnnylands-Aspen Institute Task Force, which was created by the Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands and the Aspen Institute Justice and Society Program in partnership with APPC. The task force included Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton, co-chairs of the 9/11 Commission, which called for revamping Congressional oversight in its 2004 report.

The task force was convened by APPC director Kathleen Hall Jamieson, who is also the program director at Sunnylands, and Meryl Justin Chertoff, executive director of the Aspen Institute‚Äôs Justice and Society Program. The Aspen Institute issued a news release about the former DHS secretaries’ letter, which is posted here.

In their letter to the Senate leaders, Johnson and Chertoff noted that the need to streamline oversight of DHS remains “the only major unimplemented recommendation of the 9/11 Commission Report.” In past years, former DHS Secretaries Tom Ridge and Janet Napolitano have also urged Congress to act on reforming oversight.

Last year, for the first time since DHS was created, the House approved a reauthorization bill for the department. The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee this month passed a rewrite of that bill, which is headed to the Senate floor. The Senate version calls for creation of a commission to study DHS oversight and recommend ways to streamline it.

Read the Chertoff-Johnson letter.

Read more about the Sunnylands-Aspen task force and why there is broad bipartisan support on this issue.