Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Reader Follow-up – NPPD Complaint

John Doe sent a short note yesterday that was an obvious follow-up to my comment in the blog post this weekend that he sent his complaint to the wrong (okay ‘less effective’ would be more appropriate rather than ‘wrong’) Senator. This new email provided a distribution list that the letter I received had been sent to. The list includes three Senators and two Congressmen and a prosecutor at the DOJ.

Now I’m not going to publish the list here, I don’t think it will do any particular good, but it does present a chance to discuss a little practical politics. First off, not all congresscritters are created equal and the ranking of political power has a lot to do with the issues involved. Now if you’re Average Joe Citizen having problems with a Federal agency, this probably isn’t too much of an issue. But if you’re taking on a dysfunctional agency with a view to correcting wide spread systemic problems, then you need to attract the interest of political power.

Pick Your Time

Filing your complaint in the closing days of a politically confusing Congress practically ensures that the message will be lost, particularly in a year when there are all sorts of high priority pieces of legislation that are already competing for political action. If you send your complaints to congresscritters that won’t be in town for the next Congress, you are certainly wasting your time.

It would have been much better if John Doe had saved his missive until after January 3rd. Many of the same issues will be facing Congress (and some new ones, of course) but there won’t be the same time pressure.

Pick Your Committee

Committees are where the work of Congress gets done; so one needs to pick the appropriate Committee. Normally, there is a single committee in each house of congress that has oversight responsibility for any particular federal program. Unfortunately, that is not the case with the CFATS program (or DHS in general); both the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Homeland Security Committee claim some oversight responsibility, but the only Committee that appears to have any real power is the House Appropriations Committee. And there is, of course, the Senate Homeland Security Committee and the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Next you need a Committee head (or maybe ranking member) that doesn’t particularly like the agency involved. If the head of the Committee firmly supports the agency, there is little likelihood that any significant action will be taken. In this case, three of the five Committees are generally behind ISCD; they may ask public questions about efficacy but they have no history of actually taking action to deal with problems.

The only Committees that have actually taken action against the CFATS program are the two appropriations committees. Both have voted to reduce funding (much more in the case of the House) for ISCD as a method of catching the attention of DHS leadership. Unfortunately the message was interrupted the larger political picture, but it will probably come up again next year when Congress tries to pass a spending bill for the remainder of the fiscal year.

Finally, you have to select the person within the Committee to make the most effective contact. That is generally the Committee Chair or Ranking Member, but it is frequently a Sub-committee chair, particularly in the appropriations committees. Now if you happen to have a personal connection to the head of the committee staff that would even be better.

The Press Alternative

The great American whistleblowers have all utilized the press as an alternative to working within the system. While my ego would like to think sending a copy of the letter to me was such an attempt, my blog is not large enough to get the kind of attention that would be needed to overcome political inertia. No, one would need to contact a writer at a nationally distributed publication to become one of the great American whistleblowers. In this case there are a couple that have already broken similar news about ISCD, they would be the ones to contact since they have already done some of the research needed to verify the complaints.

Moving Forward

Well I have had lots of readers look at this particular post so there is some possibility that Congressional attention will be directed at these and other ISCD issues in the coming year. We’ll need a lot more information getting to Congressional staffers before anything concrete will happen.

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