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Commission’s Proposals Fall on Deaf Ears

President Bush demonstrated decisive leadership last week when he announced his proposal to reform the intelligence community, brushing aside the significant bureaucratic hurdles and political risks associated with such a bold move. While this is the second major reorganization of the executive branch since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the president’s actions heretofore have been met by no equivalent reforms in Congress. Congress must follow the president’s lead and confront a reorganization of its own head-on if the nation’s intelligence and homeland security efforts are to be successful.

It is not for lack of outside guidance that Congress has failed to reform itself. Most recently the 9/11 commission recommended Congressional reforms, stating: “Unity of effort in executive management can be lost if it is fractured by divided congressional oversight.” The recommendations, in the spotlight now because of the 9/11 commission media blitz, are not breaking news; several other commissions reached similar conclusions well before the attacks of 9/11. The Gilmore Commission (December 1999), Hart-Rudman Commission (April 2000), Bremer Commission (June 2000) and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (December 2000) all recommended Congress unify its homeland security efforts.

Congress should follow the president’s lead and take two immediate actions recommended by the 9/11 commission, et al. First, the Intelligence committees should be given legislative authorities that match the scope of the proposed national intelligence director. Second, the House Select Committee on Homeland Security should be made permanent and fully empowered. The Senate too should stand up a homeland security committee, using the House committee as a model.

As was seen last week and previously in the wake of 9/11, the president is moving on calls for reform, while Congress continues to turn a blind eye to its own needed reforms. Now it is Congress’ turn to act. With dozens of committees and subcommittees vying for control over the Department of Homeland Security and an impending shake up to the intelligence community, Congressional leaders should overcome the internal strife and take decisive action. If Congress is unable to unify its efforts, the executive branch will be making policy while Congress is busy routing and rubberstamping.

Frank J. Cilluffo, previously special assistant to the president for Homeland Security, is director of the George Washington University Homeland Security Policy Institute. Daniel J. Kaniewski is the institute’s deputy director.