9/11 Commission Chair: Congress Is the Biggest Obstacle to Stopping the Next Terrorist Attack

The Department of Homeland Security, the commission, even Congress itself say congressional oversight is out of control.

The South reflecting pool at the Ground Zero memorial site during the dedication ceremony of the National September 11 Memorial Museum in New York May 15, 2014 in New York City.
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Clara Ritger
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Clara Ritger
July 23, 2014, 10:19 a.m.

The com­mit­tee es­tab­lished by Con­gress to ad­vise the gov­ern­ment on how to pre­vent an­oth­er 9/11-scale at­tack re­com­men­ded in its 2004 re­port that Con­gress get out of the way of the De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cur­ity and let its lead­ers do their job.

A dec­ade later, that still hasn’t happened.

The De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cur­ity says that in 2013, its staff held more than 1,650 con­gres­sion­al brief­ings and had 161 wit­nesses ap­pear at 105 hear­ings. By Home­land Se­cur­ity’s count, the hours it has spent to meet the de­mands of Con­gress cost the agency the equi­val­ent of 66 work years.

It’s not just a waste of tax­pay­er dol­lars, says House Home­land Se­cur­ity Com­mit­tee Chair­man Mi­chael Mc­Caul, but a mis­use of the valu­able re­sources that could be oth­er­wise spent stop­ping the next ter­ror­ist at­tack.

“Con­gress has not done its job and it takes away from the primary fo­cus and mis­sion of pro­tect­ing the Amer­ic­an people,” the Texas Re­pub­lic­an said at a com­mit­tee hear­ing Wed­nes­day while hold­ing up a map of the vari­ous com­mit­tees DHS re­ports to. “This is dys­func­tion­al. If you look up dys­func­tion­al in the dic­tion­ary you will prob­ably see this map.”

Mc­Caul says he wants to lead the ef­fort to fi­nally put in place the 9/11 Com­mis­sion’s re­com­mend­a­tion to es­tab­lish one point of over­sight and re­view for the agency.

“Every­one knows that when every­one is in charge, no one is,” said Jam­ie Gorel­ick, a mem­ber of the 9/11 Com­mis­sion who test­i­fied Wed­nes­day be­fore the Home­land Se­cur­ity Com­mit­tee. The com­mis­sion pro­duced a fol­low-up re­port this week to hon­or the 10-year an­niversary of the ori­gin­al re­com­mend­a­tions.

9/11 Com­mis­sion Chair­man Thomas Kean said there was no one he talked to who didn’t say con­gres­sion­al over­sight was a ma­jor prob­lem im­ped­ing an­ti­ter­ror­ism ef­forts.

“Four [Home­land Se­cur­ity] sec­ret­ar­ies now, two Re­pub­lic­ans and two Demo­crats, have all said to us the most im­port­ant prob­lem they have in fight­ing ter­ror­ism is the Con­gress,” Kean said. “That’s their biggest obstacle.”

While the ex­ec­ut­ive branch has un­der­gone “his­tor­ic change and in­sti­tu­tion­al re­form” over the last dec­ade, Kean said, Con­gress has res­isted re­forms in a way that is coun­ter­pro­duct­ive.

DHS staff are “not work­ing every day on pro­tect­ing the Amer­ic­an people if they’re pre­par­ing and giv­ing testi­mony to the U.S. Con­gress,” Kean said. “Could you ima­gine hav­ing 90 dif­fer­ent bosses? How could you get any­thing done?”

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