STATEMENT OF JAMES SCHLESINGER PREPARED FOR AN OVERSIGHT HEARING OF THE SELECT COMMITTEE ON HOMELAND SECURITY SUBCOMMITTEE ON RULES U. S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
Thursday, July 10, 2003
Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee:
I thank the Committee for this opportunity to discuss the challenges of creating a new department, relevant to the Department of Homeland Security-as the House of Representatives considers possible adjustments in the jurisdictions of its standing committees.
Let me start with this observation. In the 35 years since I first became a government official, relations between the Congress and executive agencies have changed markedly, indeed, one might say radically. In the earlier era, a senior official was called on far less frequently to testify. There would be a number of budget hearings-and from time to time testimony on some prominent issues. To an extent that may seem surprising today, agencies were left to manage themselves. Inquiries about specific issues tended to be on an informal basis-rather than testimony in public session. When I was Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, all issues were handled by the Joint Committee. When I became the Director of Central Intelligence, the director was rarely called upon to testify-at least up until the time of Watergate-and that was primarily in closed session. In the intervening years, that has changed significantly, as congressional committees have become more deeply involved in the management of executive agencies.
When we created the Department of Energy, in contrast to those older conditions, I found that half my time or more was spent on Capitol Hill testifying before various committees. Of course, the creation of the Department had involved the jurisdictions of several standing committees. In the circumstances of the day, with repeated energy events or "crises" like the shutdown of oil production in Iran, rising gasoline prices, the nuclear trauma at Three Mile Island, these committees legitimately wanted a piece of the action-and testimony. Moreover, in these last twenty-odd years, the continued proliferation of subcommittees has only made the problem worse.
Subsequent to the dramatic terrorist attack on the United States in September of 2001, the decision has been taken to consolidate a whole range of security-related activities into the new Department of Homeland Security. The longer-term benefits should be substantial. In particular, it should gradually reorient the cultures of the agencies coming together in the new department towards the post-911 mission of homeland security. But there are always costs of such consolidation, primarily short-term costs. There will be bureaucratic resistance. There are inevitable frictions associated with the movement of agencies. There is a clash of cultures that have to be adjudicated and, of course, the reconciliation of contrasting personnel and acquisition systems. It is not a certainty that the benefits of consolidation will outweigh the costs.
For the Department of Homeland Security, however, that decision is behind us. It is now the duty of all of us to do our best to make this crucial consolidation work effectively. It is a monumental challenge successfully to bring together these rather disparate elements-and efficiently combine them in pursuit of the common mission.
Here is the crucial point to bear in mind. A new government department does not spring, like Athena from the brow of Zeus, full blown and ready for action. Organizing the department is not instantaneous; it takes time. There are many organizational challenges and organizational gaps, especially in the early days of a new department. The Department of Homeland Security is, in a sense, a start-up organization. Contrary to the expectations of too many, there will be unavoidable growing pains-as the overall organization gradually comes together. No such thing as immediate and complete success should be expected. Inevitably, in so complicated an operation, there will be unresolved problems and some setbacks. Consequently, for those inclined to be critical, there will be all too many targets to shoot at. The critics can have a field day.
In the case of the Department of Homeland Security, there are all too many platforms for such criticism. At last count, there were 26 full committees with jurisdiction-and a total of 88 committees including subcommittees. As problems are uncovered or take time to be resolved, the opportunities for criticism will mount. Nonetheless, since the stake is the security of our homeland, the new department deserves support-and not unnecessary carping. To whatever extent the Congress can help by simplifying the overlapping committee structure that oversees the department, that would be a significant contribution.
By comparison, the creation of the Department of Energy was relatively child's play. The Department was far smaller. Most of the budget came from what had been the Atomic Energy Commission. The incorporated entities, by and large, had a common mission either producing energy or weapons. Additionally, there was the oversight function inherited from the Federal Energy Administration. Yet, all in all, it was a simpler task. To be sure, the department later ran into difficulties. Several secretaries, by direction or personal inclination, wanted to disestablish the department. One department head was dismissive of the national security functions of the department. All that contributed to later and unnecessary disorder.
Yet, at the time of the department's creation, there was well-nigh universal support. In the House, the Speaker, to facilitate the formation of a national energy policy, established a Select Committee, which brought together on strict time lines the actions of the standing committees with jurisdiction. That resulted in quick passage by the House of the several components of the National Energy Act. But the Senate, which had no similar mechanism, took a long time to decide on the components. When the Senate finally acted, and the results went to conference, the standing committees in the House were once again empowered to assert their jurisdictions.
Some of those jurisdictional problems will likely afflict the new Department of Homeland Security, though others will not. Nonetheless, I underscore that we all have a vast stake in the mission and the success of this new department. Any weaknesses in the department likely will prolong the activities of potential terrorists. So, I repeat: it is a monumental challenge to integrate the elements that are being brought together in a common mission. Anything that the House can do to help the new department, rather than provide additional perches from which the department can be criticized would serve the national interest.
Thank you for your attention. I shall be happy, Mr. Chairman, to answer any questions that you and members of the Committee may have.
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