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New statistics on Congressional oversight of DHS

A piece in the Washington Post today discusses the impact of excessive and balkanized congressional oversight of DHS, building off of the Post’s piece earlier in the week on DHS turnover and morale. The piece provides updated statistics on DHS’s engagement with the Hill:

Between January 2009 and last month, DHS officials testified at nearly 800 congressional hearings and had a total of 10,584 “non-hearing engagements” with Congress, which includes such contacts as meetings and briefings, according to statistics the department provided. Even that number does not include e-mails exchanged between DHS and congressional staff members and DHS reports prepared at Congress’s request.

People familiar with the numbers said they are significantly higher than comparable totals for other large Cabinet agencies such as the Defense and State departments.

This “extraordinary administrative burden” on DHS is one notable aspect of the broader issue of Congressional oversight of DHS, but I don’t think it’s the most important one; and it should be mentioned that a large share of these hearings and “non-hearing engagements” represent necessary and valuable oversight, particularly when they are conducted by the primary authorization committees in the House and the Senate, and by the two appropriations subcommittees that are responsible for funding DHS. I’m personally responsible for a couple dozen hearings and likely more than a hundred briefings out of the totals listed above, due to my prior employment on the staff of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. And I don’t think that any requests that I made of the Department in those years were excessive or unwarranted.

Instead, I would argue that the most detrimental aspects of the fragmented Congressional oversight of DHS are (a) that it pulls the Department in different directions and inhibits the implementation of the Secretary’s strategic intent, due to the narrow interests of some of the secondary committees that have a small piece of the action, and (b) that has led to an impasse on general homeland security legislation, with the primary committees unable to overcome the opposition of these secondary committees at moving forward bills that address Department-wide authorities.