House, Senate panels agree to remove two provisions from intelligence bill

September 8, 2011

Leaders of the House and Senate intelligence committees have reached an unusual bipartisan agreement to remove from the fiscal 2012 intelligence authorization bill two provisions that had drawn a veto threat from the White House.

One provision would have required the Obama administration to give the committees potentially sensitive information, including State Department cables relative to the transfer to other countries of detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Another would have required Senate confirmation of the director of the National Security Agency, which collects electronic intelligence.

Both provisions were added by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence when it approved its version of the authorization bill on Aug. 1. Because these provisions were included in a draft bill scheduled to be taken up by the House on Friday, the White House spelled out its objections in a memo sent to the House Rules Committee on Wednesday.

In it the administration said the disclosure of “sensitive diplomatic discussions and negotiations, including commitments made by foreign governments relating to the handling of transferred detainees,” would have “a significant adverse impact” on any such future discussions.

As for making the NSA director subject to Senate confirmation, the White House noted past difficulties in getting such nominations approved, saying “a critical national security position would likely remain unfilled for a significant period of time, adversely impacting the management and function of the National Security Agency.”

House intelligence committee Chairman Michael Rogers (R-Mich.) told the Rules Committee that he and the panel’s ranking Democrat, Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (Md.), had worked with their Senate counterparts, Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), over the August recess to reach agreement on differences between their committee bills, including those that drew White House objections.

Rogers called their sessions a “pre-conference conference” because the Senate committee version had not been approved by the full chamber. The House had passed its version in May.

Rogers told the rules committee that the information about agreements relative to detainees was worth receiving, but that it should not block approval of the overall authorization bill. “We can fight for that at another time,” he said.

Both versions would make cuts in the president’s classified original budget request for fiscal 2012. That may put it below fiscal 2010’s $80 billion, the last publicly disclosed figure for the nation’s 16 intelligence agencies.

Rogers told the rules panel that his staff and committee had gone over the administration request “line by line” and found ways to save. But in doing that, they had “not impacted capabilities,” he said.

The Senate committee bill included “funding and personnel cuts to the administration’s request,” Feinstein said in a statement in August.

By getting the authorization bill to the president, Rogers said, he hoped that both committees had shown that Congress can work in a bipartisan fashion. Looking forward, he added, “I hope we have reestablished our credibility and put us back in the oversight business.”

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