Intelligent Oversight

One recommendation of the 9/11 commission that would help make the country safer has yet to be passed by Congress. No wonder. It calls for removing the power of 80-something congressional committees from overseeing the intelligence community.

A new Congress opened on Tuesday, however, and saw at least a vote in the House that would streamline its oversight of a key antiterrorist agency, the giant $39 billion Department of Homeland Security.

Instead of DHS officials reporting to a labyrinthine set of committees, the House will create one committee to watch over much of the department's activity. That committee would have broad authority over policy and security, but the House stopped short of implementing the full recommendations of the 9/11 commission, which called for "a single, principal point of oversight and review."

The judiciary committee would retain watch over immigration, for instance. And the new panel won't oversee Coast Guard, Secret Service, or Internet security - all part of DHS. Clearly, more whittling down needs to be done. The problem here, in a word, is turf. The nation's security should take precedent. Any committee chair should be willing to forfeit individual controls to that worthy end.

At least one watchdog group estimates that 412 of the 435 members of the House, along with all 100 senators, serve on various panels that hold oversight of some part of homeland security. All those committees forced former Homeland Secretary Tom Ridge to testify no less than 145 times on Capitol Hill while he held the job.

Congress passed a law to remake the intelligence community but refuses to turn the mirror on itself. Lee Hamilton, who cochaired the 9/11 commission, said recently, "The work of the Congress in reforming its own institutions is unfinished." He's right.

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