The U.S. Congress is a fundamental pillar of American foreign policy and national security. When the 117th Congress is sworn in next January, legislators have the opportunity to exert substantial influence on the future of America's role in the world. CNAS experts are evaluating both the formal and informal tools available for Congress to perform its essential policy, budgetary, oversight, and administrative responsibilities. Continue reading this edition of Sharper to explore their recommendations for how legislators can best utilize Congress’ powers to defend and advance U.S. national security.
Congress’s Hidden Strengths
On matters of peace and war, virtually no one seems satisfied with Congress today. Even lawmakers complain that Congress postures more than it prescribes, overlooks more than it oversees, and passes time more than it passes laws. Experts Richard Fontaine and Loren DeJonge Schulman argue in a CNAS report that it is time for Congress to rediscover its informal tools and put them to work. Examining such informal tools as hearings and briefings, congressional delegations and reports, media engagement and public speaking, the authors outline the scope for increased congressional influence over use-of-force decisions—and describe ways in which members can seize the opportunity.
Reforming the Department of Homeland Security Through Enhanced Oversight & Accountability
18 years into its existence, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) conducts extensive activities to protect national security, but its oversight and accountability functions have not matured commensurate with those responsibilities. In a CNAS report, expert Carrie Cordero outlined the pressures placed on the department’s immigration enforcement, border security, and law enforcement components, and recommended that Congress take more substantial steps to modernize the department’s legal authorities and legislate changes that will bolster DHS’s internal controls.
Renewing the National Security Consensus in Congress
The Center published its Key National Security Issues for Congress policy brief series as a part of a major initiative, Renewing the National Security Consensus in Congress. Over the course of this series, CNAS released nine policy briefs on issues ranging as widely as bolstering congressional support for NATO and addressing America's national security workforce crisis. Each installment offered practical policy proposals for lawmakers and staff designed to enhance bipartisan cooperation in congressional national security oversight.
Experts from across the Center have offered timely analysis on the future of congressional national security oversight.
- Carrie Cordero and Elizabeth Goitein warn in Just Security that "oversight and accountability of [the Department of Homeland Security] have lagged far behind."
- At last year's CNAS National Security Conference, expert Loren DeJonge Schulman moderated a discussion with Senators Josh Hawley (R-MO) and Chris Murphy (D-CT) about bipartisan legislative solutions to complex foreign policy challenges.
- "Yet for most of the past year," Peter Harrell writes in Just Security, "key legislative proposals to reform presidential emergency powers have excluded one of the most important and most frequently invoked authorities: the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, or IEEPA."
- Katie Galgano argues in The National Interest, "As Congress considers another coronavirus relief bill, it must not only build an effective and competent oversight mechanism, but also protect that oversight from interference by the executive branch."
- "While Congress should continue to pursue legislative means," experts Richard Fontaine and Loren DeJonge Schulman write in The Hill, "it is the body’s relatively neglected informal toolkit that stands as the likelier path to influence."
- Chris Estep argues in Just Security, "Party term limits that have been in effect since the 1990s for committee chairs and ranking members prevent members of Congress from leveraging the full extent of their experience for better oversight, including on committees with jurisdiction over U.S. national security policy."
- At last year's CNAS National Security Conference, The Washington Post's Ellen Nakashima moderated a discussion about intelligence oversight, featuring The Honorable Mike Rogers, Representative C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger, and expert Carrie Cordero. Their conversation focused on setting intelligence oversight priorities, the importance of bipartisanship in intelligence oversight, and whether the intelligence committees are due for modernization.
In the News
Featuring commentary and analysis by Elizabeth Rosenberg, Carrie Cordero, Martijn Rasser, and Richard Fontaine.
Across the Center
On January 28, 2020, CNAS released a major independent assessment, “Rising to the China Challenge: Renewing American Competitiveness in the Indo-Pacific,” as mandated by Congress in the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The report prescribes a comprehensive approach to competition with China and offers nearly 100 specific, actionable policy recommendations across seven critical vectors of American competitiveness.
About the Sharper Series
The CNAS Sharper series features curated analysis and commentary from CNAS experts on the most critical challenges in U.S. foreign policy. From the future of America's relationship with China to the state of U.S. sanctions policy and more, each collection draws on the reports, interviews, and other commentaries produced by experts across the Center to explore how America can strengthen its competitive edge.
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