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January 05, 2011

Republicans Fail to Fix Homeland Security Jurisdiction

(WASHINGTON) – Today, Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), Ranking Member of the Committee on Homeland Security, released the following statement expressing concern about the failure of the Republican Majority's Rules package to fix jurisdiction over homeland security.

In July 2004, the 9/11 Commission Report recommended that there be not more than one authorizing Committee in the House for the Department of Homeland Security. They argued that consolidated jurisdiction would provide the newly-established Department of Homeland Security with the same kind of strong Congressional partner that the Department of Defense has in the Committee on Armed Services. Upon establishment of the Committee on Homeland Security in 2005, Republican Leadership rebuffed this critical recommendation when it failed to designate the Committee on Homeland Security as the principal point of oversight and review for homeland security.

I can tell you—from first-hand experience—that fractured jurisdiction results in absurd outcomes—with referrals of homeland security bills often bypassing the Committee on Homeland Security altogether.

More than a few of you would probably be surprised to hear that the following three bills were not referred to the Committee on Homeland Security: -a bill authorizing the protection federal buildings from terrorist attacks and other threats—a Department of Homeland Security responsibility; -a bill providing resources for DHS to prepare for and respond to acts of terrorism; and -a bill to require airports to mitigate against the threat of a terrorist attack.

The absurd and damaging effect of fractured jurisdiction has not gone unnoticed over the past six years. Every Secretary of Homeland Security from Tom Ridge—to—Michael Chertoff—to—Janet Napolitano has expressed concerns about fractured jurisdiction over the Department of Homeland Security. Indeed, in April 2010, Secretary Napolitano wrote that fractured jurisdiction has negatively impacted the Department's ability to fulfill its mission. Then, in May 2010, 9/11 Commission Chair Tom Kean testified that fractured jurisdiction over the Department of Homeland Security risks making the country less safe.

The 111th Congress, under the leadership of Speaker Pelosi, approved a Rules package that included new language to underscore that the Committee on Homeland Security is the lead congressional committee for homeland security matters within the House. While this change represented progress, there was still a pressing need for legislative jurisdiction over homeland security to be consolidated. The Rules package under consideration today does nothing to end fractured jurisdiction over homeland security.

Inexplicably, the package only changes the jurisdictional statement for the Committee on Armed Services—a committee that already has sweeping jurisdiction over the Defense Department. I am disappointed to see that the newly-minted House Leadership, despite assurances from the incoming Chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security that Republican Leadership would do so, refuses to tackle what the 9/11 Commission said of all its recommendations was the most difficult and important.

For this reason, I cannot support H.Res. 5 and urge my colleagues to join me in opposing this measure that knowingly turns a blind eye to a glaring deficiency in the House Rules that three Secretaries of Homeland Security, the 9/11 Commission and scores of homeland security experts have identified.

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Media Contact: Adam Comis at (202) 225-9978