In the next Congress, the reorganized Senate Select Committee on Intelligence will have two fewer members but a much larger staff -- each of the 15 senators on the panel will be entitled to choose a new staff member.
Those staffers were added because the committee was going to handle both legislation that authorizes intelligence activities and appropriations legislation that funds them. Having a single committee handle both those functions, as well as oversight, was one of the primary aims of the reforms recommended by the Sept. 11 commission.
But having added the employees, the committee has dropped the reason for doing so. The select committee will continue to authorize intelligence programs, but a new subcommittee on intelligence within the Senate Appropriations Committee will handle the money.
The select committee's additional staff members will have access to the panel's classified meetings, reports and computer databases, relieving individual senators from having to attend every closed meeting or read all the reports and other documents the panel receives from the CIA and other agencies.
"We are tinkering with the oversight responsibilities of the intelligence committee, but certainly nothing substantive," Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said during the debate on the proposal to retool the committee. "We will have a status quo intelligence committee without combined authorization and appropriations power."
But when the resolution was introduced on the floor Oct. 6, Rules and Administration Committee Chairman Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said, "We have allowed members to hire personal designated staff, to give them a trusted representative on the committee."
Sen. Harry M. Reid (Nev.), then the ranking Democrat on the rules panel, said during floor debate that although an authorizing and appropriating committee had been proposed, "there are very strong feelings that creates too much power and too much secrecy for a handful of members, so it actually results in fewer checks and balances and much weaker oversight."
A senior committee member, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that adding staff members "could create an increase in partisanship within the committee, which should not have any."
Sens. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), the chairman and vice chairman of the intelligence panel, have said they want to maintain a nonpartisan staff, and a senior staff member this week said, "They plan to ask members to make professional staff appointments."
The addition of the staffers is just one of several new provisions of the intelligence reform law.
Roberts and Rockefeller have been reappointed to their committee leadership posts, not by vote of the panel members of their respective parties but by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Reid, now the minority leader-designate. Another provision eliminated the eight-year term limit that would have forced Roberts off the panel.
The makeup of the committee will change slightly. The one seat lost on the Republican side will be that of Sen. John W. Warner (Va.), but as chairman of the Armed Services Committee he will remain an ex officio member -- another reform provision. Two Democrats have dropped off -- Richard J. Durbin (Ill.), who has become minority whip, and John Edwards (N.C.), who chose not to seek reelection in order to run for vice president -- but Jon S. Corzine (D-N.J.) is joining.
Roberts's agenda, which he outlined this week in a statement, includes getting the new director of national intelligence, or DNI, confirmed, "and working with that person to ensure that the new structure is effective."
One reform provision may become a headache inside the Senate. It gives the select committee "final responsibility for reviewing, holding hearings and voting on civilian persons nominated by the president to fill a position within the intelligence community that requires the advice and consent of the Senate."
The resolution does not specify those positions. They clearly include the new DNI and his deputy, the director of the new National Counterterrorism Center and top CIA officials -- and they apparently also include the assistant secretary of state for intelligence and research, now Thomas Fingar, and even Pentagon intelligence appointees, such as the undersecretary of defense for intelligence, the post held by Stephen A. Cambone.
Fingar was confirmed by the Foreign Relations Committee, Cambone by the Armed Services Committee.
A legislative notice released by the Republican Policy Committee Oct. 6 says the Foreign Relations or Armed Services committees could hold hearings on intelligence nominees in their departments, but the select intelligence committee "will have final responsibility for reviewing and voting on this nomination."
The language referring to "civilian persons nominated by the president" has created other ambiguities. In the reform bill, Congress said it "was desirable" that the DNI or the principal deputy be "a commissioned officer of the armed forces in active status." That nomination would probably go to select committee, but it is uncertain who would confirm nominees to run the three major Pentagon-based intelligence-collection agencies.