Memo to Congress: DHS needs biennial funding

The new Congress taking office next January should initiate a regular, two-year cycle for writing comprehensive Homeland Security Department authorization bills rather than continue to approve antiterrorism legislation on a piecemeal basis, a pair of Heritage Foundation scholars recommend in a new report today.

The current Congress addressed security at U.S. borders, ports and chemical plants and reorganized the Federal Emergency Management Agency. But a biennial authorization bill would allow for sharper oversight and a more comprehensive approach, wrote Mackenzie Eaglen, senior policy analyst, and research assistant Laura Keith.

"A biennial bill would allow the authorization committees to exercise much-needed oversight of the DHS, to address the many homeland security issues that have not been covered in individual pieces of legislation, and to avoid reactive stand-alone legislation inevitably proposed in response to the latest threat and directed at ever-changing security concerns," the report states.

The authors acknowledged, however, that structural roadblocks exist within Congress, which have stymied comprehensive authorization bills to date. In the House, authorizing jurisdiction is primarily under the Homeland Security Committee, but also is shared by the departments of Judiciary, Transportation and Energy.

In the Senate, the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee has substantial areas of oversight beyond homeland security, but does not have jurisdiction over fundamental DHS components such as the Coast Guard, Transportation Security Administration and immigration. Any successful bill will have to stay within the committee's limited jurisdiction, the report said.

The report recommends that the DHS authorization bill for the next Congress include provisions to create an undersecretary for policy position within DHS, establish homeland security education accreditation requirements for DHS career employees, reform the homeland security grand programs to assure better preparedness and accountability and enact comprehensive border security and immigration reform.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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