Wabash Blogs Washington 2006 Immersion Trip
 

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American University Discussions

Jeremy Burton and Charlie Ray- Today’s schedule took us to the American University for a series of meetings with scholars on Congress and the Presidency and with Department of Homeland Security officials.

Dr. James Thurber is the founder and director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies. He is very busy in Washington where he routinely testifies before Senate and House committees. Recently, he has been working on lobby reform issues but has spent a lot of time in recent years on DHS and making it work more smoothly.

He gave us a handout with some research from his graduate students in which they make recommendations on how to improve the DHS. He focused our conversation by analyzing the DHS with macro politics and asking five questions about DHS. Is there a clear threat/ problem; is there a clear solution/ mission; are there strong interest groups in favor of the mission; are the resources unlimited; is there a central core of authority?

When Walter J. Oleszek joined us, a senior specialist in the Congressional Research Service, the conversation turned mainly to†Congress and its relationship to DHS. We spoke about “turf wars” between the almost 200 committees in Congress that “oversee” DHS operations.

Later in the day when Joseph Joh and Charlie Brooks (a Depauw University graduate) joined us, we got a more utilitarian view of DHS and its relationship with Congress. Mr. Joh, who deals with immigration issues, praised the oversight of Congress and helped us understand situations in which oversight is still maturing. DHS deals with over 160 hearings per year and nearly 4,000 Congressional briefings per year. Joh and Brooks work for the Legislative Affairs office in DHS that deals with Congress.

The day as a whole gave us insight into the challenges that face DHS. The mission their is oftentimes unclear and authority in situations like Katrina and along our borders seems to lack. The most common question that was asked by today's scholars was, "who is in charge over there?" Everyone agrees that DHS will be around for a long time but nobody wants to see it continue in its current form.

The officials from DHS are more optimistic about its future and feel like it is improving year by year. Dr. Thurber and others like him, however, are very concerned that change isn't coming quickly enough to make the department more prepared for the upcoming hurricane season and for possible attacks like 9/11.

There is a big disconnect between the way things ought to be and the way things really are. This trip is exposing the bright and bushy tailed Wabash students to that part of American politics that ignores what "ought to be" for the sake of political gain and stability.