Rep. King to Push Consolidated DHS Oversight

By Joseph Straw

Keeping Guantanamo Bay detainees out of the United States and streamlining congressional oversight are among the top priorities of U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-NY), the Republican expected to retake the reins of the House Committee on Homeland Security in the new Congress.

“We will definitely work to stop the Obama Administration’s plans to transfer Guantanamo detainees, like Khalid Sheik Mohammed and others, to the U.S. and put them on trial in civilian courts,”  King said in a statement provided to Security Management by his office. “We will have significant hearings on these topics, as well as the attack at Fort Hood, all of which the Democratic majority has failed to hold hearings on.”

Further, King said, “We will push border legislation that focuses on law enforcement both at the border and in the interior United States.”

King is currently the ranking minority member of the committee, which oversees the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). He previously chaired the committee from mid-2005 until Democrats assumed control of the House in January 2007.

The committee’s oversight of DHS is not exclusive. In the current Congress, 18 House and 16 Senate committees share oversight of different aspects of DHS, a reflection of the agency’s complex mission and of its assembly in 2003 from 22 existing federal agencies.

Senior lawmakers across those 34 committees are reluctant to cede the political power they wield in their authorization and oversight roles, but the toll those committees exact on DHS is a heavy one. Former DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff recently told NPR that the system produces conflicting directives and ties up DHS officials’ time. In 2007 and 2008 the agency participated in 5,000 congressional briefings and 370 hearings, he said.

King said that despite resistance, consolidating oversight would be a top priority.

“This is vital,” King said. “It is a key recommendation of the 9/11 Commission yet to be implemented.”

The primary legislative legacy of the committee under current chairman U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) is 2007’s Implementing the Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act, or the 9/11 Act, which like the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, implemented some—but not all—of the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission.

The law’s provisions include implementation of a risk-based methodology for allotting DHS grants to states and urban areas, establishment of scanning technology standards by the U.S. Transportation Security Administration, and development of the Voluntary Private Sector Preparedness Accreditation and Certification Program (PS-Prep).

One of the law’s most notable requirements was not recommended by the 9/11 Commission: screening of 100 percent of all cargo entering the United States, whether by air or on shipboard containers. Critics have argued that the mandate conflicts with a risk management approach to security, under which limited resources are directed to mitigate the greatest risks. Sector stakeholders and some government officials, have raised questions about the feasibility of 100 percent screening. Last week’s “printer plot," however, has refocused attention on foreign cargo screening.

Photo credit: Flickr/creative commons license, posted by Marion Doss. Ground Zero, New York City, N.Y. (Sept. 16, 2001) -- U.S. Navy photo by Chief Photographer's Mate Eric J. TIlford. (RELEASED)


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