Homeland Security Committees to Undergo Leadership Changes (Updated)

Speculation of whether or when Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano will depart has begun.
There is more certainty on Capitol Hill, though, where the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs will see its first leadership changes since it was created in 2004 with the departures of Sens. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Susan Collins, R-Maine. The two moderates have traded chairmanship of the committee as the balance of power shifted, but always had a congenial working relationship.
There may be more disputes in the future as two new leaders take over the committee, two former Capitol Hill staffers said Nov. 13 at the National Defense Industrial Association Homeland Security Symposium in Arlington, Va.   
The new ranking member will likely be Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., a fiscal conservative and physician known on the hill as "Dr. No," for his strong dislike of new federal programs. The committee chairmanship will go to Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., who has a reputation for reaching across the aisle and cutting deals, said Brandon Torres Declet, vice president of homeland security practices at McAllister & Quinn.
Coburn is not impossible to work with, said Declet, who once served as a staffer for the Senate Judiciary Committee. He has a simple litmus test for any new program: Why does the federal government need to do this, and how will it be paid for? If something is added, what will be cut, Coburn will want to know. If he is convinced that a new program is not duplicative of something already existing, then "he will work on a bi-partisan basis," Declet said.
Coburn's tenure on the committee will be short as he has already announced that he will not seek reelection in 2014, Declet noted. Carper, on the other hand, just won reelection. He has been involved in cybersecurity issues, and may use his chairmanship and the broad jurisdiction of the committee to take on network vulnerability issues across the government.
David Olive, principal at Catalyst Partners, a consulting firm, said Carper will probably be more friendly to the administration than Lieberman, while Coburn as the ranking member, will be willing to put more of a spotlight on himself than Collins. Coburn has been a critic of DHS headquarters bureaucracy, which he sees as too top heavy.
On the House side, Rep. Candace Miller, R-Mich., may be offered the chair of the Homeland Security Committee. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., is expected to leave as his tenure must come to an end, according to House rules that impose limits on the number of terms a member can serve as a chair of one particular committee. He could ask for a waiver, but probably won't do so, Declet predicted.
Miller, hailing from a state south of Canada, may give more focus on the northern border, Declet said.
Olive said leadership on the appropriations committees will be relatively stable. The problem remains the large number of committees that have jurisdiction over DHS. About 88 of them can call department officials in to testify, and he doesn't expect that to change.
Excessive oversight is one of the factors that has made finding qualified personnel to serve at DHS increasingly difficult, the two experts said.
"Most of the jobs at DHS are thankless jobs," said Declet. The stringent vetting process keeps many candidates from allowing their names to be considered for upper management positions at the department. Then getting confirmed by the Senate can be even more problematic. Customs and Border Protection has had an acting commissioner for the past three years, he noted.
On top of that, anyone accepting a senior DHS position will have to gird themselves for a bruising fight over immigration reform, Declet said.
Olive said: "It is a high intensity, high turnover place that just wears you down."
Clarification: While a staffer for the Senate Judiciary Committee, Declet did not work directly with Coburn, but was familiar with his work.
Photo Credit: Department of Homeland Security

Topics: Homeland Security

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