A dispute that held up House consideration of the fiscal 2006 intelligence authorization bill this week ended late yesterday when the new director of national intelligence, John D. Negroponte, gave his word to Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) that he would meet with him before he transfers any Defense Department intelligence specialist to new duties.
Hunter, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, had persuaded Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, to add language to the intelligence authorization bill that would have prevented Negroponte from exercising his transfer authority over the CIA, the Defense Department, the FBI or other intelligence agencies without prior approval of congressional committees with jurisdiction over those areas.
When Rep. Jane Harman (Calif.), ranking Democrat on the intelligence panel, voiced opposition to the provision last week and obtained backing from Negroponte and the White House, Hoekstra withdrew support for his own language. But it had already been made a part of the committee bill by a party-line 12 to 9 vote.
The bill had been scheduled for a floor vote this week, but the House Rules Committee, bowing to Hunter's arguments, delayed approving a Hoekstra-Harman amendment to strike the language from the committee bill, officials said.
Yesterday afternoon, an exasperated Hoekstra said the issue broke down "to whether a single chairman can stop the DNI [director of national intelligence] from moving a single person." Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Harman, prime authors of the new intelligence law that created Negroponte's position, called the dispute the first real test of Negroponte's authority and "one he cannot lose," as Harman put it.
Hunter said Negroponte called him late yesterday afternoon and they arranged to meet in the House Armed Services Committee offices. "The ambassador [Negroponte] gave me his word he would meet personally with me before" he moved any Defense Department intelligence specialists and that "he would give serious consideration to any suggestions we make. That was good enough for me."
After Negroponte left, Hunter said he called the House leadership to withdraw his objections and he expected the language limiting the DNI's authority to be removed from the bill.
Last year's intelligence reorganization was designed to empower the DNI to coordinate the intelligence activities of the CIA, the Defense Department and 13 other agencies. On personnel transfers, it specified that the new intelligence chief was to "promptly provide notice" to congressional committees with jurisdiction, but the director needed approval only from the Office of Management and Budget to carry them out.
Hunter said yesterday that this was a matter left open by last year's negotiations over the bill with Collins and Hoekstra. He said legislative language he worked out with Hoekstra last month addressed it. The language provided that the DNI "may not transfer personnel" until he provided prompt notice to the relevant congressional committees "and received a response."
Harman and her Democratic colleagues on the intelligence panel objected to that language, as did Negroponte and the White House, fearing that a transfer could be blocked if a committee or its chairman refused to respond.
Before the Negroponte-Hunter agreement was reached yesterday, Hoekstra said, "We are in the middle of a war and intelligence is the tip of the spear, and this [transfer language] is the focal point of our interest." After being told of the agreement, he declared his surprise and satisfaction.
Earlier yesterday, Harman told reporters, "I said before that he [Negroponte] needs to win the first turf battle, even if it is over the size of the table napkins, and this is a lot bigger."
Collins pointed out that the original Senate bill gave Negroponte authority to transfer unlimited numbers of intelligence employees from one agency to another. Negotiations with Hunter last year produced a compromise that reduced that authority. Under that language, Negroponte can transfer 100 specialists to new intelligence centers.
John F. Lehman, a member of the 9/11 commission and former Navy secretary who joined Harman and Collins in talking to reporters before Hunter and Negroponte made their agreement, said, "Without personnel and budget authority, the DNI is just another layer of bureaucracy." If Negroponte were to lose on this issue, he added, "a signal will be sent to the rest of the bureaucracy that it is business as usual."
Lehman said he believed Hunter was responding to the desires of Pentagon bureaucracies, operating without the backing of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.