In the tug of war between the House and Senate over how to overhaul the nation's spy apparatus, Pentagon allies in the House weakened the authority senators tried to give the new...
WASHINGTON In the tug of war between the House and Senate over how to overhaul the nation’s spy apparatus, Pentagon allies in the House weakened the authority senators tried to give the new national director of intelligence.
As a result, how much power the new spy chief will have will depend much on who President Bush selects for the job and how much authority he grants.
Congress created the intelligence-czar post in legislation it cleared Wednesday for Bush’s signature. The measure gives the new chief authority over intelligence operations scattered in 15 federal agencies.
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The Pentagon currently controls 80 percent of the combined $40 billion annual intelligence budget.
The legislation gives the new director some control over roughly 70 percent of that budget. The rest remains under the Pentagon’s control.
Still, there are ambiguities, which leave the new spy director’s role and the true extent of authority open to interpretation.
“It’s fairly murky,” said Michael O’Hanlon, a defense-budget expert at the Brookings Institution, an independent think tank. “It ultimately matters as to what the president wants.”
The original Senate legislation would have given the intelligence director authority to shift unlimited funds and unlimited personnel from one intelligence function to another.
Under pressure from Republican House members sympathetic to the Pentagon, the final bill grants the new director power to set overall intelligence-agency budget parameters, subject to consultation with the agency heads and final arbitration by the president and his Office of Management and Budget. It also limits the director’s budget-transfer authority to 5 percent of a particular agency’s funding and restricts his personnel movements.
Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, voted for the bill but warned it doesn’t make the new director fully accountable for the nation’s intelligence.
“I really don’t think it went far enough, especially in giving the DNI [director of national intelligence] that day-to-day operational line of authority,” he said.
Roberts, who had proposed a more far-reaching overhaul of intelligence operations, warned in a speech on the Senate floor that “if we are not diligent, our newly created DNI could end up a director in name only.”
But Lee Hamilton, vice chairman of the independent Sept. 11 commission, whose recommendations formed the basis for the legislation, said it gives significant power to the new director.
“I’m satisfied with what we have here,” Hamilton said. “How does it play out over time? That is very difficult to predict. There will be bureaucratic struggles under this bill to be sure.”
Still, he said, the ultimate success of a restructured intelligence community depends on who fills the new post.
“The DNI has to be a strong figure,” he said. “You assume the secretary of defense is a strong figure. You have to have a DNI that will insist that he has the authority that the bill says he has.”
Hamilton is among a long list of names that have been mentioned as possible appointees to the post, which would require Senate confirmation.