Panel steps up DHS review with eye to landmark legislation

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs panel is planning to step up its oversight review of the mammoth department it created 10 years ago, aiming to craft landmark reauthorization legislation by the beginning of next year.

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Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.) and ranking member Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) are leading the “top-to-bottom” review in an effort to eliminate wasteful spending, duplication and sloppy managerial practices in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

“The idea is to lead to taking a shot at the reauthorization of the Department of Homeland Security,” Carper told The Hill earlier this year. “There’s never been a reauthorization, and we’re going to give it a try, and we think the best way to do that is through a series of hearings.”

On Wednesday, the panel is set to hold its third hearing on the issue, titled: “examining challenges and achievements and addressing emerging threats.”

The hearing will focus on testimony from Tom Ridge, the former DHS secretary, former Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), the one-time top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, and retired Adm. Thad Allen, the former chief of the U.S. Coast Guard.

A committee aide said Wednesday’s hearing, which will fall on the 12th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, is the first of several slated for the remaining months of the first session.

The panel is also looking to focus on port and transportation security, intelligence operations within the DHS — especially in light of the recent stream of revelations about the National Security Agency’s spy programs — and the DHS acquisition procedures, among others, according to the aide.

Carper and Coburn announced the DHS “A-to-Z” review early this year, but the intended hearings have been delayed because of the committee’s work on issues related to Hurricane Sandy, border security — as part of the immigration reform bill — and its investigation into the Boston Marathon bombing.

“We plan to mark this milestone throughout the year by holding a series of hearings intended to take stock of how far the department has come in maturing, how well it’s doing in executing its core missions and how we can help them do even better,” said Carper at a March hearing on the DHS’s managerial practices, which launched the review process.

“Our goal here — this one suggested by Sen. Coburn — is we do a series of hearings, top to bottom, A to Z, after which we would work on reauthorization for the department. We’ve never done that.”

The DHS is the largest department in the country, formed in 2003 by bringing 22 departments and agencies under one umbrella. In the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the DHS was formed in an attempt to centralize a wide range of federal security offices — ranging from immigration and border enforcement to port and aviation security — to better guard against future attacks.

But after 10 years of steady expansion, the department’s bureaucracy has never undergone a complete review to look at where it needs to be reigned in, where taxpayer savings can be achieved and where duplication can be eliminated.

The prospects, however, are uncertain for passing a reauthorization measure. This isn’t the committee’s first stab at attempting such an overhaul.

In the last Congress, former Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), the respective former chairman and ranking member of the panel, led the charge, reporting the measure out of committee almost exactly 10 years after 9/11, only to have the bill languish idly on the Senate calendar until it finally died at the end of the Congress, 15 months later.

The committee’s progress towards a reauthorization measure will have to be juggled with completing its investigation of the Boston Marathon bombing, as well as with ushering through a new DHS head after current Secretary Janet Napolitano stepped down to take over as chief of the University of California school system.

Obama has not weighed in on who Napolitano's successor will be, but several names have been floated as strong contenders. Chief among them is New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, who has remained mum about whether he's been in talks about the post.

Lieberman has also been suggested for the post, as have former Deputy Secretary Jane Lute and Bill Bratton, the former head of police for Boston, Los Angeles, and New York City.