Democrats 9/11 Commission Bill: Both Less and More Than Advertised
So, the 100 Hours continue and Speaker Pelosi has gotten her 9/11 Commission legislation through. And though some may think that every one of the 9/11 Commission prescriptions were included (the necessity or wisdom of implementing them all is another discussion), apparently, that’s really not the case (via The Corner).
Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, independent of Connecticut, who held a hearing Tuesday as the Senate prepared for its version of this bill, noted that one major recommendation — not in the House measure — was strengthening Congressional oversight of intelligence and counterterrorism efforts. “We found it a lot easier to reform the rest of the government than we did to reform ourselves post-9/11,” Mr. Lieberman said. “That’s unfinished work.”
The relevant portion of the 9/11 Report to which Lieberman refers begins here (and I’ve excerpted it in full in the extended entry, below.
Finally, Speaker Pelosi’s 9/11 Commission Legislation contains language making it possible for the federal employees of the TSA to unionize.
The 9/11 commission did not address union rights or personnel rules but urged improvements in airport screening operations. AFGE [American Federation of Government Employees] maintains that collective bargaining rights help smooth agency operations because labor-management contracts provide a structure for addressing employee issues, including job performance.
Peter Winch, an organizer with AFGE, said the union had asked Democrats to put bargaining rights for TSA screeners “on the agenda for the first 100 hours.” He continued, “It does not make sense to keep these employees from collective bargaining rights when other Department of Homeland Security employees have those rights.”
The TSA has said that collective bargaining is not appropriate for airport passenger and baggage screeners because of their national security mission and because the agency requires the ability to make personnel staffing changes rapidly in response to threats. In the law creating the TSA, Congress left it to the Bush administration to determine such issues as union rights for screeners.
The Bush Administration also provided an example:
As an example, officials pointed to the foiled United Kingdom airline bombing plot in August, when new procedures for screeners were put into place immediately.
“This flexibility is a key component of how the Department of Homeland Security, through TSA, protects Americans while they travel,” the statement said.
Then there is this point made by Senator Joseph Lieberman’s office:
“Other security personnel like customs agents and the Border Patrol have the right to collective bargaining, and that has not impaired their ability to protect American security.”
OK, fine. But isn’t this really just an “earmark” by another name? The original legislation that allowed this potential TSA unionization had previously stalled in committee (granted, GOP controlled congress) and NONE of this 100 hour legislation is being debated in–or passed through–committee. Heck, to the victor go the spoils and all that, but for the Democrat led Congress to reward one of their key constituencies–a federal employee union–under the cover of national security smells like business as usual to me.
Here is the full portion of the 9/11 Report that calls for a change in the structure of Congressional oversight.
13.4 UNITY OF EFFORT IN THE CONGRESS
Strengthen Congressional Oversight of Intelligence and Homeland
Of all our recommendations, strengthening congressional oversight may be among the most difficult and important. So long as oversight is governed by current congressional rules and resolutions, we believe the American people will not get the security they want and need.The United States needs a strong, stable, and capable congressional committee structure to give America’s national intelligence agencies oversight, support, and leadership.
Few things are more difficult to change in Washington than congressional committee jurisdiction and prerogatives. To a member, these assignments are almost as important as the map of his or her congressional district.The American people may have to insist that these changes occur, or they may well not happen. Having interviewed numerous members of Congress from both par-
ties, as well as congressional staff members, we found that dissatisfaction with congressional oversight remains widespread.
The future challenges of America’s intelligence agencies are daunting.They include the need to develop leading-edge technologies that give our policy-[pg.420]makers and warfighters a decisive edge in any conflict where the interests of the United States are vital. Not only does good intelligence win wars, but the best intelligence enables us to prevent them from happening altogether.
Under the terms of existing rules and resolutions the House and Senate intelligence committees lack the power, influence, and sustained capability to meet this challenge.While few members of Congress have the broad knowledge of intelligence activities or the know-how about the technologies employed, all members need to feel assured that good oversight is happening.
When their unfamiliarity with the subject is combined with the need to preserve security, a mandate emerges for substantial change.
Tinkering with the existing structure is not sufficient. Either Congress should create a joint committee for intelligence, using the Joint Atomic Energy Committee as its model, or it should create House and Senate committees with combined authorizing and appropriations powers.
Whichever of these two forms are chosen, the goal should be a structure–codified by resolution with powers expressly granted and carefully limited–allowing a relatively small group of members of Congress, given time and reason to master the subject and the agencies, to conduct oversight of the intelligence establishment and be clearly accountable for their work. The staff of this committee should be nonpartisan and work for the entire committee and
not for individual members.
The other reforms we have suggested–for a National Counterterrorism Center and a National Intelligence Director–will not work if congressional oversight does not change too. Unity of effort in executive management can be lost if it is fractured by divided congressional oversight.
Recommendation: Congressional oversight for intelligence–and counterterrorism–is now dysfunctional. Congress should address this problem.We have considered various alternatives: A joint committee on the old model of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy is one. A single committee in each house of Congress, combining authorizing and appropriating authorities, is another.
· The new committee or committees should conduct continuing stud ies of the activities of the intelligence agencies and report problems relating to the development and use of intelligence to all members of the House and Senate.
· We have already recommended that the total level of funding for intelligence be made public, and that the national intelligence program be appropriated to the National Intelligence Director, not to the secretary of defense.[pg.421] · We also recommend that the intelligence committee should have a subcommittee specifically dedicated to oversight, freed from the consuming responsibility of working on the budget.
· The resolution creating the new intelligence committee structure should grant subpoena authority to the committee or committees. The majority party’s representation on this committee should never exceed the minority’s representation by more than one.
· Four of the members appointed to this committee or committees should be a member who also serves on each of the following additional committees:Armed Services, Judiciary, Foreign Affairs, and the Defense Appropriations subcommittee. In this way the other major
congressional interests can be brought together in the new committee’s work.
· Members should serve indefinitely on the intelligence committees, without set terms, thereby letting them accumulate expertise.
· The committees should be smaller–perhaps seven or nine members in each house–so that each member feels a greater sense of responsibility, and accountability, for the quality of the committee’s work. The leaders of the Department of Homeland Security now appear before 88
committees and subcommittees of Congress. One expert witness (not a member of the administration) told us that this is perhaps the single largest obstacle impeding the department’s successful development.The one attempt to consolidate such committee authority, the House Select Committee on Homeland Security, may be eliminated. The Senate does not have even this.
Congress needs to establish for the Department of Homeland Security the kind of clear authority and responsibility that exist to enable the Justice Department to deal with crime and the Defense Department to deal with threats to national security.Through not more than one authorizing committee and one appropriating subcommittee in each house, Congress should be able to ask the secretary of homeland security whether he or she has the resources to provide
reasonable security against major terrorist acts within the United States and to hold the secretary accountable for the department’s performance.
Recommendation: Congress should create a single, principal point of oversight and review for homeland security. Congressional leaders are best able to judge what committee should have jurisdiction over this department and its duties. But we believe that Congress does have the obligation to choose one in the House and one in the Senate, and that this committee should be a permanent standing committee with a nonpartisan staff.