Department of Homeland Security: Options for House and Senate Committee Organization
CRS Report for Congress
Department of Homeland Security:
Options for House and Senate Committee
Judy Schneider and Paul Rundquist
Specialists on the Congress
Government and Finance Division
The 9/11 Commission Report recommended that the House and Senate each have
a “permanent standing committee” as the principal committee for conducting oversight
and review for homeland security. Earlier, pursuant to PL 107-296, the Homeland
Security Act, a new Department of Homeland Security was established. Congress began
discussions regarding the appropriate congressional structure to conduct oversight and
fund the new department. Section 1503 of the legislation states the sense of Congress
that each chamber should review its committee structure in light of the reorganization
of the executive branch, and the House, in the 108th Congress, established a Select
Committee on Homeland Security with a mandate to report recommendations for
changes in the House committee system by September 30, 2004.
Each chamber might decide to retain its current structure, make minor alterations
to its current jurisdictional alignment, make extensive jurisdictional changes, create a
standing committee, re-establish the existing House select committee, or establish one
or more new select committees with revised authorities. Further changes might also be
made in the structure of the Appropriations Committees. This report addresses some of
these options and will be updated as events warrant.
Since the terrorist attacks of 2001 and the creation of the new Department of
Homeland Security, there has been widespread interest in reorganizing the House and
Senate committee systems to handle homeland security issues more effectively. Some
changes to the committee systems have already been made, but there are calls for still
more comprehensive action.
Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. Among the many issues
discussed in the report of the commission were a group of recommendations intended to
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“strengthen congressional oversight of intelligence and homeland security.” Concerning
homeland security, the commission recommended establishment of a standing committee
in each chamber to assume responsibility over the topic.
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 this1
committee should be a permanent standing committee with a nonpartisan staff.
Two House Homeland Security Committees. The House created a temporary
Select Committee on Homeland Security that was directed to coordinate
recommendations on the bill made by a half dozen different House standing committees.
The Homeland Security Committee compiled a comprehensive proposal, led House floor
debate on the bill, and served as the central negotiating team in resolving differences
between the House and Senate versions of the bill. When P.L. 107-296 was signed into
law, the Select Committee on Homeland Security was abolished, but not before the new
law included language in Section 1503 stating, “It is the sense of Congress that each
House of Congress should review its committee structure in light of the reorganization of
responsibilities within the executive branch by the establishment of the Department.”
The House deferred immediate action, creating in January 2003, a new Selectth
Committee on Homeland Security. This new committee was to serve during the 108
Congress as the House focus for legislative and oversight coordination for homeland
security issues, while other House committees retained their more limited legislative and
oversight authority over homeland security. Most significantly, the Select Committee was
directed to report by September 30, 2004, its recommendations for changes in the House
committee system. By comparison, the Senate, in the 108th Congress, has continued to
consider homeland security issues within its existing committee structure.
Appropriations Subcommittee for Homeland Security. The structure of
the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have been changed to account for the
creation of the new department. In early February 2003, the House Appropriations
Committee approved an internal reorganization plan which abolished the former
Subcommittee on Treasury and Postal Service Appropriations and transferred its
responsibilities to a renamed Subcommittee on Transportation, Treasury, and Independent
Agencies Appropriations. With this consolidation, a new thirteenth Subcommittee on
Homeland Security was established and it was assigned jurisdiction over appropriations
for the new department and for bureaus in other departments transferred to it. The Senate
Appropriations Committee shortly thereafter followed suit, to ensure that the
subcommittee structures of the two committees were parallel.
Calls for Further Change. Many Members have already endorsed further
changes to the committee system. A number of proposals have been offered in the House
and Senate to establish a new temporary select, permanent select, or standing committee
on homeland security, to alter the appropriations process, or to make other changes in
congressional structures dealing with homeland security issues. A senior House leader
1 The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks
on the United States, p. 421, [http://www.gpoaccess.gov/911/index.html], visited Aug. 12, 2004.
observed in 2002 that creation of the new department “probably will require at least a
reorganization of the current committees.” A Senator active in crafting the final version
of the Homeland Security Department bill stated “It is hard to see how Congress could
do a decent job of authorizing and overseeing what the new department does without a
new Committee of Homeland Security.” On the other hand, a number of Members have
publicly opposed any alteration of House or Senate committee structures, while others
have endorsed or opposed such action at different times.2 From the perspective of the
executive branch, a reduction in committee jurisdiction fragmentation limits the number
of panels to which officials of the new agency will be answerable.
Although the House and Senate have undertaken some initial steps to revise their
committee structures, the report of the 9/11 Commission may add additional pressure for
congressional action. This report examines various options for the House and Senate
individually or jointly to consider in reorganizing its structures dealing with homeland
security and discusses possible advantages and disadvantages of each.
Options for Congressional Organization3
Timetable for Reform. Not only is there discussion about what changes should
be made in congressional structures, but there is also discussion about when such changes
should be made. With the 9/11 Commission’s recent recommendations and the
September 30, 2004, deadline for committee system reform proposals from the House
Homeland Security Committee, some say reforms are so vital that they should be adopted
before Congress adjourns for the election. These advocates can point to the 1974 House
committee reforms which were passed just before the elections that year.
Other say it would be best to defer such action until the beginning of the new
Congress in January. After the election, the voters will have supplied fresh mandates and
the House and Senate will have time in January before the inauguration to consider more
comprehensive reform options thoroughly. The House adopts its rules for the new
Congress on the first session day, and these reforms could include substantial changes to
its committee structure. The Senate’s rules are deemed to be in place automatically at the
beginning of a new Congress. However, some believe there will be attempts on the first
day of the new Congress to change the Senate’s Cloture Rule and other rules relating to
the consideration of executive nominations. These efforts could open the door to
consideration of committee system changes as well.
Retain Current Structure. Congress could decide that the current system is
sufficient to monitor the work of the new department. No changes would be made in
either jurisdiction or referral procedures. Some may argue that it is too soon to know how
2 For a broader review of reported Member views on reorganization options, see David Nather
and Karen Foerstel, “Proposal Presages Turf War,” CQ Weekly, June 8, 2002, p. 1505; David
Nather and Karen Foerstel, “Committee Chairmen Express Concerns about Major Shift in
Jurisdiction,”CQ Weekly, June 15, 2002, p. 1584; James Kitfield, “The Experiment Begins,”
National Journal, June 15, 2002, p. 1776; and Derek Willis, “Turf Battles Could Lie Ahead in
Fight to Oversee Homeland Security Department,”CQ Weekly, Nov. 16, 2002, p. 3006.
3 For additional information, see CRS Report RS21643, House Committee System: Jurisdiction
and Referral Reform Options, by Judy Schneider and Paul Rundquist.
much legislative workload the new department will cause House and Senate committees.
In the immediate aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks, all congressional committees
sought involvement in terrorism matters. More recently, the involvement of committees
with only minor claims to jurisdiction seems to have tapered off.
Historically, there has been no necessary connection between an executive
reorganization and congressional committee reorganization. Several House and Senate
committees were combined to create the new Armed Services Committees in 1947, at
about the same time that the Department of Defense was created. The Armed Services
Committees promptly created subcommittees that closely matched the former standing
committees that had been merged in the committee reorganization. On the other hand,
the Department of Energy was created after the Senate had consolidated energy
jurisdiction in its committees, but before the House completed a realignment of its energy
jurisdictions in 1980. The creation of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare
(now Health and Human Services) was not accompanied by any change in House or
Senate committee jurisdictions.
Reorganize Entire System. Either chamber or both chambers, acting separately
or jointly, could undertake an extensive reorganization of the committee system. A
substantial House committee reorganization took place in 1995, but it has been a quarter
century since the Senate comprehensively reorganized its committees. The Joint
Committee on the Organization of Congress in the 103rd Congress considered numerous
options for such reorganization, but did not directly address the issue of terrorism or anti-
terrorism jurisdiction.4 A comprehensive reorganization could allow both chambers to5
address other jurisdiction issues which have emerged in recent years. Nevertheless, a
comprehensive reorganization is normally controversial and rarely contemplated under
very short deadlines.
Realign Committee Jurisdiction. Within the existing system, either or both
chambers could choose to realign their committee jurisdictions within the existing
structure. That would entail changing chamber rules. Past experience indicates that
Members generally have been loathe to overhaul the committee system, especially during
a Congress. Rules changes are traditionally adopted at the beginning of a new Congress.
In the Senate, because there is no need to readopt Senate rules at the beginning of a new
Congress, a committee reorganization would have to be considered separately.
4 Joint Committee on the Organization of Congress, Background Materials: Supplemental
Information Provided to Members of the Joint Committee on the Organization of Congress. 103rdst
Cong., 1 sess. (Washington: GPO, 1993) pp, 608-788. See also, CRS Report RL31835
Reorganization of the House of Representatives: Modern Reform Efforts, by Judy Schneider,
Colton Campbell, Christopher Davis, and Betsy Palmer; and CRS Report RL32112,
Reorganization of the Senate: Modern Reform Efforts, by Judy Schneider, Christopher Davis, and
5 Such restructuring would enable the chambers to also address other committee jurisdiction and
organization issues. For example, press reports have indicated the possibility of re-creating a
House Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries. See, Ben Pershing, “Cubin Joins Chase
for Resources,” Roll Call, Apr. 25, 2002, p. 1. In addition, because of the shifting majority in the
Senate, most Senators now hold more committee and subcommittee assignments than the rules
In either chamber, it would be possible to add jurisdictional aspects of certain
homeland security topics to the jurisdiction of specific committees, without altering the
existing subject jurisdictions of committees over other topics. For example, jurisdiction
over “national energy policy generally” was assigned to the House Energy and Commerce
Committee in 1980 without significant alteration to other committees’ jurisdictions.
Change Referral System. Both chambers typically refer measures to a single
committee, by determining primary jurisdiction in the House and predominant jurisdiction
in the Senate. In the House, most multiple referrals are sequential, although joint referrals
were permitted until 1995. Changing the referral system could enable all interested
committees to maintain legislative and oversight jurisdiction. For example, the Speaker
of the House (who has the discretionary authority to impose time limits on referrals) could
be required to impose one on all committees involved in a multiple referral of a homeland
security-related bill. In addition, for legislation on homeland security, the House couldth
allow joint referrals. (In the 108 Congress, House rules allow referral without
designation of a primary committee “under exceptional circumstances.”)
In the Senate, which generally requires unanimous consent for multiple referrals,
party leaders could invoke their little-used authority to recommend referrals to several
committees by debate-limited motion. However, major changes in House or Senate bill
referral rules could complicate action on homeland security matters and could be nearly
as controversial as a jurisdictional realignment.
Create New Standing Committee over Homeland Security. A new
standing committee could be created in either or both chambers. Such a panel could have
legislative responsibility over all aspects of the Department of Homeland Security.
Questions regarding whether the new committee would absorb jurisdiction from existing
panels or overlap with them would need to be decided. Would special oversight authority
(broader in scope than the committee’s legislative jurisdiction) be granted to it?
Create Select Committee over Homeland Security. The House has created
two temporary select committees to deal with homeland security in the wake of the 2001
attacks. A select committee with the same or a revised jurisdiction could be establishedth
in the 109 Congress, with or without the creation of a companion select committee in the
Senate. If such a new panel were created, would it have legislative authority (for example,
in the same manner as do the current intelligence select committees)? If it were limited
to conducting oversight, how and through what process would its findings be converted
into legislative recommendations? In view of the recommendations of the 9/11
Commission about the House and Senate Permanent Select Committees on Intelligence,
will the views of the House and Senate about creating such select committees on other
Create a Joint Committee on Homeland Security. The House and Senate
could create a joint committee to oversee the work of the new department. However, only
one joint committee in the last half-century has been granted legislative jurisdiction. If
such a joint panel were created, the question of sequential referrals to existing standing
committees could still be raised. The House and Senate acted separately in the 107th
Congress to permit the two intelligence committees to hold an inquiry into intelligence
failures prior to the terrorist attacks. Nothing in House or Senate rules would preclude
existing House or Senate committees from holding joint hearings in the interests of
greater efficiency. Some view joint committees as a means to permit more efficient
congressional review of policy areas, while others believe that separate committees help
preserve chamber autonomy and encourage independent committee initiatives.
Create Leadership Committee. A small committee comprised of members
named by chamber party leaders could act to coordinate homeland security legislative andth
oversight work among other committees in the chamber. The 107 Congress House
Homeland Security Select Committee was just such a leadership panel, and a similarly6
constituted panel could be reestablished on a more permanent basis.
Use less Formal Means to Coordinate Policy. In both the House and Senate,
many committees claiming responsibility for specific policy areas have entered into
“memoranda of understanding,” or agreements among the concerned committees,
reflecting each panel’s appropriate jurisdiction over a disputed policy area. These
memoranda serve as guidance to the parliamentarians’ offices in making bill referrals and
may obviate the immediate need for a formal revision in committee jurisdictions.
The Senate also makes use of “temporary standing orders,” unanimous consent
agreements typically in force for the current Congress only, that modify the standing rules
of the Senate. One or more temporary standing orders could be used to allocate
jurisdiction among Senate committees over homeland security issues, subject to renewal
or modification at the beginning of each succeeding Congress. If successful, the
temporary orders could be converted into more permanent changes in Senate procedure;
if not, other realignments could be attempted.
Further Realign Appropriations Committees’ Subcommittees. The House
and Senate Appropriations Committees adapted their structures in 2003 to create a new7
Subcommittee on Homeland Security. Additional recommendations by the 9/11
Commission include a proposal to set out intelligence appropriations in a separate
appropriations bill, or to combine authorization and appropriations for intelligence
activities in only one panel in each chamber. Additional changes may be required in the
Appropriations Committees’ structures and the procedures through which they draft both
regular and supplemental appropriations bills.
6 Such action is not unprecedented. The House decided in 1977 to extend the life of the Ad Hoc
Committee on the Outer Continental Shelf for an additional period to allow it to monitor the
implementation of the law, the consideration of which had caused its initial creation.
7 For further information, see CRS Report RL31572, Appropriations Subcommittee Structure:
History of Changes from 1920-2003, by James V. Saturno.