The current Democratic chairman and two former GOP chairmen of the House Homeland Security Committee sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Thursday asking leaders to finally consolidate jurisdiction over and authorization of the Department of Homeland Security.
“We strongly support the expansion of the Committee’s black letter jurisdiction to ensure that the Committee has the jurisdiction necessary to fully authorize the Department of Homeland Security (DHS or the Department),” wrote Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and past chairmen Peter King (R-N.Y.) and Michael McCaul (R-Texas). “As next year marks the twentieth anniversary of the September 11th attack, we believe that the 117th Congress is the time to fulfill the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States’ (9/11 Commission) recommendation to create a ‘single, principal point of oversight and review for homeland security’ by expanding the Committee’s jurisdictional statement under Rule X of the House Rules.”
“Over the past fifteen years, the Committee’s jurisdiction has proven to be woefully inadequate,” the chairmen continued. “When the Committee was established in 2005, it was conferred a Rule X statement that was arguably the most restrictive of all standing House committees. While all other Committees have statements with subject matter jurisdiction that capture the activities of the agencies they oversee, the Committee’s statement only grants narrow authority over a small subset of what the Department does. As a result, in 2019 alone, the Committee did not receive a referral of any kind on 247 of 330 introduced bills directing the Secretary of Homeland Security to take action.”
DHS reports to dozens of congressional committees and subcommittees, while other cogs in the nation’s security apparatus such as the Defense Department enjoy streamlined authorization and oversight.
A reauthorization bill has not been passed for DHS since its inception. In lieu of a comprehensive departmental reauthorization, DHS and its agencies have been funded in annual appropriations legislation and guided in bills related to programs and activities.
Without reauthorization, the House chairmen noted, “Congress has largely ceded the shaping of the Department’s policies and programs to the Executive Branch.”
“To reassert itself, Congress needs to have a standing House Committee that is focused on DHS to produce and advance an authorization bill that guides the Department into the future. For CHS to do so, it needs a robust Rule X jurisdictional statement,” they wrote.
“From port, border, transportation, and cyber security to countering the rise of domestic terrorism to responding to disasters, DHS is tasked with a broad and challenging range of mission,” Thompson, King and McCaul continued. “Sixteen years ago, the 9/11 Commission expressed concern that the way Congress was organized would hinder DHS’ development and bog down critical reform legislation in a web of referrals. Over the past sixteen years, we have had some successes but the promise of a standing House committee over DHS has not been fully realized. We strongly urge you, on the eve of the twentieth anniversary of the September 11th attacks, to expand the Rule X jurisdictional statement for the Committee.”
The letter from the chairmen comes after former DHS secretaries and acting secretaries Tom Ridge, Michael Chertoff, Janet Napolitano, Jeh Johnson, Rand Beers, and Kevin McAleenan released an open letter last week calling on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Pelosi and McCarthy to remedy the problem in the lame-duck session — a window in which it is easier to change committee responsibilities before the 117th Congress convenes.
“DHS urgently needs to make major reforms, improvements, and enhancements to ensure the Department can protect the nation in the way Congress envisioned nearly two decades ago,” the former secretaries wrote to congressional leadership. “DHS’s leadership, whether Democratic or Republican, needs to work with a single authorizing committee with broad subject matter authority to enact the changes and authorize the programs that DHS needs to address the threats of 2021.”