Panel will give extra oversight to intelligence budgets
Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi on Dec. 14 said intelligence budgets would get an extra layer of congressional oversight, giving Democrats opportunity to curb the scope of some of President Bush’s programs.
Mrs. Pelosi said Democrats will create a select intelligence oversight panel that will function within the House Appropriations Committee.
The panel will be responsible for crafting the classified portion of the Defense Department’s budget and will allow the lawmakers who authorize spy programs to have an additional role in funding them.
The California Democrat promised that the panel will hold hearings on the president’s intelligence budget, which includes funding for the CIA and National Security Agency.
The Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence now is the only panel that handles intelligence policy, and funds are allocated through the Appropriations defense subcommittee. Democrats propose bridging the two committees, creating a separate panel with a few members from each.
“I know it will make the American people safer,” Mrs. Pelosi said.
The new panel, for example, could adjust funding for the NSA’s wiretapping program, which many Democrats oppose, and oversee intelligence agencies’ use of the funds.
The bipartisan National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States said oversight would have helped avoid many of the intelligence failures leading up to the September 11 attacks.
It also called the intelligence agencies “too complex and secret,” and lamented a shortage of oversight.
“Even the most basic information about how much money is actually allocated to or within the intelligence community, and most of its key components is shrouded from public view,” the September 11 commission’s report said.
Mrs. Pelosi, who has served on both the intelligence and appropriations panels, has long advocated transparency in intelligence agencies.
A Republican appropriations aide, however, said the intelligence budgets must remain secret to prevent enemies from becoming aware of U.S. spy programs.
A transparent budget could signal to enemies, for example, large procurements such as satellite systems. The aide said “one or two” appropriations staffers now have “need-to-know” access.
September 11 commission member John F. Lehman, a Republican former Navy secretary, said the plan to eliminate disconnect seems to be “a very good move in the right direction.”
Former Rep. Timothy J. Roemer, an Indiana Democrat who served on the September 11 commission, said the idea is “creative” and “a major step forward” to meeting the panel’s goals.
Incoming House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said he is analyzing and discussing Mrs. Pelosi’s plan with his colleagues.
Mr. Boehner will recommend which Republican members will serve on the panel, but Mrs. Pelosi has final appointment power. The chairmen and ranking members of both the full Appropriations Committee and the defense subcommittee will serve as ex-officio members of the new panel.