During 2007, Department of Homeland Security officials testified before Congress 224 times.
That averages to about four times a week, Secretary Michael Chertoff pointed out in his annual end of the year speech that touted the department’s accomplishments.
The problem is that the department answers to 86 different congressional committees and subcommittees.
The department was created from 22 legacy agencies, and each fell under several committees. For example, the Coast Guard still answers to transportation, commerce, natural resources and appropriations committees as well as the homeland security committees that were created after 9/11.
The 9/11 Commission recommended that Congress pare down the number of committees that have oversight responsibilities, but its report came out in 2004, and since then nothing has happened, Chertoff complained.
“Much to my dismay, this recommendation on streamlining oversight has gone largely unheeded,” he said. “We face a situation that I would describe as oversight run amok.”
Since the department’s creation, DHS officials have testified 761 times, provided roughly 7,800 written reports and answered more than 13,000 questions for the record, he added.
That is a drain on the department’s time and resources, but the larger problem is the myopic ways the committees look at the department, he said. Each committee has its own ideas on how the department should prioritize its spending and resources.
“These committees tend to look at us through the prism of their own particular, specific interests. They don’t look at the big picture in terms of what’s best for nation’s security overall, and how do we best make these trade-offs,” he said.
Chertoff said the high turnover of personnel in upper management could be partly blamed on the excessive demands of Congress.
“Please give us a reasonable number of points of contact so that we can engage in a dialogue with Congress in a way that is disciplined,” he asked.