WASHINGTON – Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Me., heard arguments Thursday for and against the idea of merging the Homeland Security Council (HSC) with the National Security Council (NSC).

Lieberman and Collins said they were open to a potential merger, but both expressed concerns that the interests of homeland security could be overshadowed by the interests of national security and warned that any merger would have to ensure that homeland security received appropriate attention from the President. They also noted that Congress would need to update the statutes that established the HSC and NSC if the two Councils were merged, and encouraged the Administration to work with Congress on this matter.

“Every President since Harry Truman has adapted the structure of the National Security Council to best serve his needs and those of the country, in light of the challenges then facing the nation,” Lieberman said. “President Obama, of course, will want to do the same – and with the Homeland Security Council as well. But I have one clear bottom line – that whatever structure emerges, it is essential that homeland security policy issues are given sufficient staff, resources, and attention within the White House and that a process exists to effectively coordinate them. I look forward to engaging with the Administration on this matter in the coming months.”

Collins said, “The decision on whether or not the Homeland Security Council and the National Security Council should be merged should not be taken lightly. Some have advocated a merger of the HSC and NSC, but eliminating an independent HSC may not be the best available option. An independent HSC, with more resources, a larger, more experienced staff, and the backing of the President, would enhance the council’s stature and its ability to coordinate federal departments and agencies, state, local, and tribal governments, and the private sector. A strong, independent HSC could resolve many of the concerns raised by merger advocates without the potential unintended consequences that a merger might cause.”

The HSC was established after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, on the model of the NSC, to advise the President on homeland security matters. Like the NSC, the HSC’s statutory direction is general. Its membership, however, includes only the President, Vice President, Department of Homeland Security, Attorney General, and Secretary of Defense.

Just as the NSC is designed to corral the efforts of departments across the government, including Defense, State, and the Intelligence Community, in their operations abroad, the HSC was formed to ensure that the government acts together at the federal, state and local levels to secure the homeland. A number of reports in recent years, however, have questioned the wisdom of a separate HSC and NSC and argued they should be merged.

One hearing witness, Tom Ridge, former Secretary of the Homeland Security Department, strongly opposed the merger, fearing homeland security would be subsumed to national security. Two other witnesses – Christine Wormuth, Senior Fellow, International Security Program as the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and James Locher III, Executive Director of the Project on National Security Reform – argued for the merger as a way to streamline White House security policy. A fourth witness, Frances Fragos Townsend, former Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, outlined both pros and cons of a merger.