Seeking to break a House-Senate deadlock over intelligence reform, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) is exploring whether the added budgetary powers President Bush granted the director of central intelligence last August through an executive order can be permanently shifted to a new director of national intelligence by law.
Collins, the leading Senate negotiator, told reporters yesterday she was "very disappointed" that she and her colleagues have been unable to reconcile competing House and Senate bills to restructure operations of the 15 agencies that make up the U.S. intelligence community.
The main stumbling block has been over determining the extent of budget and spending authority granted the new intelligence director. Annual intelligence spending, now said to total $40 billion, is largely hidden in the Pentagon budget and is under the control of the defense secretary.
The Senate bill, which is supported by members of the commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and by House Democratic negotiators, calls for ending that secrecy and giving the money directly to the new director. House Republicans oppose declassification and want the defense secretary to continue controlling the funds.
The president's Office of Management and Budget has drafted compromise language for the Senate conferees that would keep the intelligence funding secret and part of the Pentagon budget, but would give the new intelligence director control over how the funds are spent. So far, the proposed compromise has received a cold reception from the Republican negotiators.
Now Collins, chairman of the Governmental Affairs Committee, wants to write into law a variation of Bush's August executive order to give the new director what she described as "control over budget execution" for the three Pentagon-based intelligence collection agencies. The CIA director would be stripped of that authority under the legislation.
Even under this approach, the new national intelligence director would control only three-quarters of the intelligence gathering system. The rest, dealing with tactical military intelligence gathering, would remain under the control of the defense secretary.
In a conference call with reporters yesterday, the top four congressional negotiators -- Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) and Collins said they still hope compromise legislation can be passed during Congress's lame-duck session scheduled for mid-November.
On Thursday, Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) charged that Bush had "squandered what may have been a last opportunity to get Congress to approve meaningful intelligence reform." Last July, Kerry called for quick approval of the recommendations of the Sept. 11 commission.