Video: Too much talk on 9/11?

By Chip Reid Correspondent
NBC News
updated 8/4/2004 8:07:08 PM ET 2004-08-05T00:07:08

Congressional hearings in August? In most years that’s unheard of, but not this year — with as many as 20 committee hearings expected this month on the 9/11 commission report and more expected in September.

But President George W. Bush suggested this week there's already hearing overload, sapping time and energy from the war on terror.

"I mean, it seems like it's one thing to testify and there to be oversight, it's another thing to make sure that the people who are engaged in protecting America don't spend all their time talking," said the president on Monday at the White House.

One example: Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge and his top deputies have testified at 290 hearings in the past year and a half and received more than 4,000 letters from Congress requesting information.

Part of the problem is the Homeland Security Department answers to a staggering 88 congressional committees and subcommittees. The 9/11 commission cited that fact in concluding, "congressional oversight for intelligence — and counterterrorism — is dysfunctional" and called on Congress to dramatically streamline the committee process. Critics say there are simply too many congressional cooks in the homeland security kitchen.

"There are a lot of members who see Homeland Security, unfortunately, as a way to get a good story in their local media,” says Michael Franc of the Heritage Foundation.

Congresswoman Jane Harman, D-Calif., says congressional oversight is vitally important, but adds that enough is enough.

"We've had 62 hearings just this year," she says. "I cannot imagine why today, tomorrow, or maybe Thursday at the latest, we don't sit down and move this legislation through this house committee… and stop talking.”

But many members of Congress say the 9/11 report recommends such a dramatic overhaul of United States intelligence that they have a duty to examine it thoroughly before acting, and that will take a lot of time — and a lot of talk.

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