President Bush's nominee to be the director of central intelligence, Rep. Porter J. Goss (R-Fla.), sponsored legislation that would have cut intelligence personnel by 20 percent in the late 1990s.
Goss, who has been chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence for the past eight years, was one of six original co-sponsors of legislation in 1995 that called for cuts of at least 4 percent per year between 1996 and 2000 in the total number of people employed throughout the intelligence community.
The legislation, part of a wide-ranging budget-cutting measure that included abolishing the Energy Department and privatizing the air traffic control system, never received a vote. But the nine-year-old legislation, exhumed by Democrats, presents a political hurdle for Goss.
The Bush reelection campaign has been blasting Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry as deeply irresponsible for proposing intelligence cuts at the same time. A Bush campaign ad released on Aug. 13 carried a headline: "John Kerry . . . proposed slashing Intelligence Budget 6 Billion Dollars."
But the cuts Goss supported are larger than those proposed by Kerry and specifically targeted the "human intelligence" that has recently been found lacking. The recent report by the commission probing the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks called for more spending on human intelligence.
Kerry, in September 1995, proposed a five-year, $1.5 billion cut in the intelligence budget, about 1 percent of the overall intelligence budget. But three months earlier, on June 22, Goss was one of six original co-sponsors of legislation titled H.R. 1923, called the Restructuring a Limited Government Act. Among other things, the legislation, written by then-Rules Committee Chairman Gerald B.H. Solomon (R-N.Y.), directed that "the president shall, for each of fiscal years 1996 through 2000, reduce the total number of military and civilian personnel employed by, or assigned or detailed to, elements of the Intelligence Community by not less than 4 percent of the baseline number" of employees on Sept. 30, 1995.
There are believed to be about 20,000 employees of the CIA, and an unknown number of others in the military intelligence agencies.
Goss has declined all interview requests while his CIA nomination is pending. A House Republican aide familiar with the 1995 legislation, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Goss signed on to the legislation as a member of Solomon's Rules Committee.
"The bill called for change in just about every aspect of government at a time when the Congress was very focused on balancing the federal budget," the official said. "It was tied to intelligence reform and was calling for a reorganization of the intelligence community and centralizing authority." The aide further noted that House legislation has increased funds for intelligence activities in each of the eight years Goss has been committee chairman.
Democrats said the Goss-backed legislation proves that Kerry's intelligence cuts were not irresponsible and that both parties favored intelligence reductions in the post-Cold War era. "We all believed the world would be more peaceful," said Rep. Jane Harman (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the intelligence committee. Comparing the two cuts, "Goss's bill is obviously much more severe" than Kerry's, she said. "What Kerry was doing was a pale shadow of what the Solomon bill would have done."
The Solomon legislation included cuts to programs in education, agriculture, transportation, housing and defense, and overhauls of welfare and Medicare. Some of the legislation sounds much like current proposals, including a plan to "reduce redundancy and overlapping jurisdiction of intelligence components and to centralize . . . responsibility and authority for intelligence activities."