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House Takes Key Step Advised by Task Force on Homeland Security

The U.S. House of Representatives took a major step toward enacting a key recommendation of the Sunnylands-Aspen Institute Task Force, overwhelmingly approving the first-ever reauthorization bill for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

DHS was established in 2002, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. But in the last 15 years Congress has not passed a reauthorization bill for DHS, the third-largest government department, which falls under the oversight of scores of congressional committees, subcommittees, caucuses, commissions and groups.

Department of Homeland Security oversight graphic, developed by APPC and published in the New York Times.

In 2013, a task force was assembled by the Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands and the Aspen Institute Justice and Society Program, in partnership with the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC). The task force, whose members included 9/11 Commission co-chairs Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton, urged Congress to streamline and consolidate oversight of Homeland Security and pass an authorization bill for the department. Streamlining the department was one of the 41 original recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, which regarded it as one of “the most important” but also “the most difficult to realize.”

The Sunnylands-Aspen task force, which met at the Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands, was convened by APPC director Kathleen Hall Jamieson, who is program director at Sunnylands, and Meryl Justin Chertoff, executive director of the Aspen Institute’s Justice and Society Program. In its report, the group said: “Passing authorizations improves Congressional oversight and prioritizes programs within DHS. When large segments of the Department of Homeland security operate with ‘unauthorized appropriations,’ the administration is able to set its priorities unguided by Congress and might not be spending money on programs that Congress considers important.”

The House approved the reauthorization bill 386-41, with bipartisan support, on July 20, 2017. In a statement, House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul (R., Texas) said, “The threats we face have evolved in the past 15 years, and we must not only keep up with the evolution of the threats, we need to stay in front of them. The American people deserve the strongest possible and most efficient Department of Homeland Security, and this legislation will help provide just that.

“Today’s reauthorization of the Department is a major bipartisan accomplishment and an example of what Congress can achieve when we put the safety and security of our country ahead of partisan politics.”

The bill must be approved by the Senate to take effect.

The Sunnylands-Aspen task force’s call for reform of Congressional oversight of Homeland Security has received bipartisan support from dozens of national security experts, including former Homeland Security secretaries Tom Ridge, Michael Chertoff and Janet Napolitano, and the members of the 9/11 Commission.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Center for Domestic Preparedness. Credit: FEMA CDP/Kathy Wood.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Center for Domestic Preparedness. Credit: FEMA CDP/Kathy Wood.