Skip to main content

Former Homeland Security Secretaries Urge Oversight Reform

PHILADELPHIA – On the 13th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the three former U.S. Secretaries of Homeland Security recommended that Congress streamline its oversight of the Department of Homeland Security as “a matter of critical importance to national security on which there is broad bipartisan agreement.”

Former DHS Secretaries Tom Ridge (2003-2005), Michael Chertoff (2005-2009) and Janet Napolitano (2009-2013) made the plea in a letter to Rep. Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, in advance of hearings by the House Rules Committee on the organization of the 114th Congress, whose first session will begin in January 2015.

In a separate letter to Rep. McCaul, more than 30 experts in national security, including 9/11 Commission chair Tom Kean and vice-chair Lee Hamilton, urged Congress to “reform and strengthen” its oversight of homeland security. The letter quoted former 9/11 Commission member Jamie Gorelick as saying: “After the next disaster, someone will ask, who in Congress was in charge? Who was performing the oversight? … Everyone knows that when everyone is in charge, no one is. But it would be too bad if it takes another disaster to make that point.”

The former Homeland Security secretaries reiterated that the country has acted on all but one of the 41 recommendations made by the 9/11 Commission a decade ago. Instead of streamlining supervision of homeland security as the commission urged, Congress has increased the number of committees claiming jurisdiction. In the 112th Congress, they noted, the Department of Homeland Security answered to 92 committees and subcommittees, along with 27 other caucuses, commissions and groups.

The letters were released by the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC) of the University of Pennsylvania and the Aspen Institute Justice and Society Program. In the spring of 2013, APPC and the Aspen program organized the Sunnylands-Aspen Institute task force, which met at the Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands and included former 9/11 Commission chair Tom Kean and vice-chair Lee Hamilton, former DHS Secretary Chertoff, and former U.S. Coast Guard commandant Thad Allen.

A bipartisan consensus has emerged around reform. For a list of national security experts supporting simplification of Congressional oversight and a diagram of the current oversight structure, click here. Read the Sunnylands-Aspen task force report here and watch the video “Homeland Confusion.”