Where's Alan?

Remember Alan Bersin, the former San Diego US attorney and schools chief, nominated by President Obama on Sept. 29 to be Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection?

Daniel J. Kaniewski , a former special assistant to President Bush for homeland security, gives his take on this unconscionable delay in Roll Call:

Unlike the troubled nomination of the Transportation Security Administration chief, there have been no concerns raised about the CBP nominee, Alan Bersin. So why, in the wake of an attempted terrorist attack, is the Senate not moving expeditiously to consider the CBP nominee? The answer is unfortunately a familiar theme of dysfunctional Congressional oversight.

In the case of CBP, like many of the 22 agencies merged into the Department of Homeland Security in 2003, oversight remains a vestige of its previous incarnation. The Senate Finance Committee, which had jurisdiction over the U.S. Customs Service in the Department of Treasury — before it was dissolved and folded into CBP — retained oversight of CBP in perpetuity.

The Senate Finance Committee, including Chairman Max Baucus of Montana and ranking member Chuck Grassley Iowa, has been at the center of the health care debate in the Senate. While health care was the committee’s priority, this important nomination disappeared from the committee’s radar. Since no hearing has yet been scheduled, Bersin cannot begin the journey down the long road that awaits him if he is to be confirmed. And while the committee has managed to squeeze in hearings for Health and Human Services and Treasury nominees during the health care debate, the DHS nominee has been afforded no such opportunity. In the meantime, even the acting CBP commissioner retired as planned, just days after the Christmas attack. Thus, one of the key agencies securing our nation against terrorism is now without a leadership team.

The CBP example is unfortunately not a unique one; 80 committees and subcommittees continue to exercise oversight over various components of DHS. Despite numerous calls for reform during the past decade, including from the 9/11 commission and other congressionally chartered commissions, consolidating Congressional oversight remains an abiding, but still elusive, necessity. As 9/11 commission Chairman Thomas Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton recently testified before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee in reference to the Fort Hood and Christmas attacks, “Enduring fractured and overlapping committee jurisdictions on both sides of the Hill have left Congressional oversight in a unsatisfactory state.”

While the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs panel and the Intelligence Committee continue to hold hearings investigating the Obama administration and chastising it for its Christmas bombing failures, Congressional leaders stand on the sidelines either unconcerned or unaware that such a critical nomination languishes.

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