Spotlight: House Committee on Homeland Security

Every now and then, I like to shine a spotlight on the shenanigans of our beloved U.S. Congress and its members. After all, there’s so much “news” being generated in this town that it’s nearly impossible to catch it all. So with this feature, I’ll try and call attention to items that should really make Americans’ blood boil. Rest assured, this column will be an equal-opportunity critic — challenging both Democrats and Republicans.

This week’s spotlight looks at a story that barely registered a blip on Washington’s audacity-meter last week. I’m referring to a story in Congress Daily reporting on turmoil within the House Homeland Security panel.

Apparently, Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) likes the work of a staffer named Lanier Avant. In fact, he likes the 30-year-old aide so much that he made him not only the chief of staff for his congressional office, but also for the entire committee. What chafes me and most readers is Avant’s admission to Congress Daily that he does “the bulk of [Thompson’s] political work.” Whoa! Time-out … Since when did a pedigree on campaigning prepare a staff director to draft national security legislation?

I’m not the only one bothered by this. The Congress Daily piece goes on to quote unnamed sources who (legitimately) have a problem with Avant’s lack of a security clearance. C’mon, folks. Chairman Thompson wouldn’t go to a surgeon without a medical degree, no matter how much the referring physician liked him; so why does he jeopardize the integrity of his committee with such a move?

I’m sorry, but “fitting the qualifications of the chairman” does not constitute competency, as Thompson argues. Further, because he doesn’t even have a security clearance, Avant is seemingly unfit to create policy decisions that require classified details. I recognize the media and Internet offer Americans a sense that they know every threat detail to America, but legislating requires information beyond pedestrian reaches. Avant’s lack of access fundamentally risks the decisions executed regarding homeland security.

Since Avant has taken over the committee, Rep. Thompson’s pet issue — the treatment of small, disadvantaged businesses — has apparently become the committee’s chief issue, causing many to question the use of committee resources. Of course, equal opportunity for small businesses is important, but making that the focus of policy ignores a host of specters that threaten the homeland.

Even Avant has admitted his knowledge of the military, intel and the Department of Homeland security is absent, but he still believes all that can be ignored because he “know[s] Washington.” Well, I disagree. If you are a staff director to the Homeland Security Committee, you ought to know a little bit about the subject — or at least have access to all the information (like maybe having a security clearance). But I guess these days, policymaking and America’s security aren’t defined by what you know about the issue, it’s what you know about politics.


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