Calls for creating centralized congressional focus on homeland security

In preparation for the organization of the 115th Congress, the co-chairs of the Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense last week delivered a letter to Congressman Pete Sessions (R-Texas), chair of the Committee on Rules, asking that special consideration be given to the jurisdiction of the House Committee on Homeland Security.

“The issues facing the safety of our homeland are a priority for Congress and the constituents you serve,” wrote former Senator Joe Lieberman and first Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge. “However, the current congressional oversight structure is severely fractured, diluting focus and often resulting in reactive policymaking.”

The authors noted that two independent, bipartisan review Commissions – the Kean-Hamilton 9/11 Commission and the Graham-Talent WMDCommission – called for a more centralized oversight structure in Congress to provide a greater focus on national security programs. While the House did create the Homeland Security Committee in response to the 9/11 Commission recommendations, jurisdiction of the agencies that were moved to the Department of Homeland Security remains with other committees.

“This decentralized framework does a disservice to Congress by diminishing its ability to effectively oversee and implement homeland security policy,” the letter continues. “As chairmen of the Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense, we have become increasingly concerned that more than 20 congressional Committees have biodefense jurisdiction, but only a small handful spend any time actually focusing on biodefense. This selective oversight reflects insufficient congressional engagement related to many of the most significant biodefense challenges America faces.”

Lieberman and Ridge urged Sessions to provide the House Committee on Homeland Security with primary jurisdiction over DHS authorizations. A centralized focus on homeland security, they contend, is vital to ensuring the Members of Congress can create meaningful policies that protect the homeland.

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