House-Senate negotiators, trying to craft a far-reaching bill to revamp U.S. intelligence, worked last night against a fast-approaching deadline in hopes of achieving a compromise that can be passed before Congress adjourns for the year, most likely this weekend.
The four principal negotiators met privately for hours but provided little information on their progress, even to their aides. Staffers close to the situation said the lawmakers had seemed rather optimistic in the morning, but less so in the afternoon, as they haggled over proposals to change immigration laws and law enforcement guidelines as part of the battle against terrorism.
Some legislators suggested that today would be the last day to produce a bill that the full House and Senate could approve before they close down the 108th Congress. Others, however, said it is impossible to specify an absolute deadline.
"People will be up very late" trying to resolve the remaining differences in the extensive House and Senate bills, said Harald Stavenas, spokesman for House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), a key negotiator.
Some Democratic aides said they believe that the only outstanding issues involved immigration and law enforcement, and that lawmakers had resolved the other chief sticking point -- how much budgetary power should go to a new national intelligence director. But Stavenas said it appeared that senators were still pressing Hunter to give the director more authority over some Pentagon-based intelligence agencies than the House has proposed. "My boss is not budging" on that issue, Stavenas said.
Despite the outstanding differences, the House and Senate have reached agreement on many proposals by the Sept. 11 commission, including the need to strengthen U.S. efforts to combat radical Islamic movements through public diplomacy. Even if the negotiations fail to produce a final bill this year, these agreements point to policy shifts that Congress and the administration seem likely to embrace next year.
The intelligence reform legislation would vastly increase spending and activities in international broadcasting, expand educational and cultural exchanges in the Muslim world, and boost the stature of public diplomacy not only in the State Department but throughout government as well.
The House bill contains a requirement that the secretary of state provide an annual assessment of public diplomacy's impacts on target audiences in the previous year and an outline of goals for the coming year. It would also increase foreign service training in that field and would require foreign service officers to have one tour involving public diplomacy as a prerequisite for promotion.
Other provisions call for funds to go to programs that promote independent broadcast facilities in the Middle East.
"We need short-term action on a long-range strategy . . . that invigorates our foreign policy with the attention that the President and Congress have given to the military and intelligence parts of the conflict against Islamist terrorism," the Sept. 11 commission said in its July report. It concluded that "the United States must do more to communicate its message."
At the time, the top U.S. post for directing that activity, undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, was vacant. It remains unfilled. Margaret Tutwiler, who once headed the State Department's public affairs and served as ambassador to Morocco, took the job last December but left at the end of June.
The current acting undersecretary, Patricia de Stacy Harrison, a respected businesswoman in the public relations field and former co-chairman of the Republican National Committee, continues to serve as assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs.
She occupies an office almost 20 blocks from State Department headquarters, and moving her exchange-program operation to the department's building is one of the proposals in the House intelligence reform legislation. In her official biography, Harrison cites the bringing of the Iraqi National Symphony to the Kennedy Center last December and the reestablishment of the Fulbright scholarship program in Iraq as two of her achievements as acting undersecretary.
The Defense Department is taking a closer look at what it could be doing, at the suggestion of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. A recent Defense Science Board study of public diplomacy, prompted by Rumsfeld's questions after the Pentagon's initial attempts to run a media network in Iraq failed, called for expanding media and other cultural exchange programs across the government.
A congressionally initiated study, whose report is still being drafted, has found that the United States is losing the battle for world opinion, according to F. William Smullen III, director of the national security studies program at Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.
"We are gaining more enemies faster than we are gaining friends," said Smullen, a member of the congressional panel and a former top aide to outgoing Secretary of State Colin L. Powell. He serves on the State Department's Advisory Committee on Cultural Diplomacy. "We have got to upscale what we are doing," Smullen said.