Time to update our view of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the direction it is taking under its director, James R. Clapper Jr.

Clapper is making the integration of collection and analysis his first priority, not just through 17 national intelligence managers — whose job is to coordinate the handling of regional or functional targeted problems — but also through an ambitious multi-year attempt to broaden access to data from all community agencies for those with authority to see it.

“If we integrate intelligence . . . it makes for a better product for policymakers, decision makers — whether they’re sitting in a foxhole or sitting in the White House,” Clapper told the Geoint (Geospatial Intelligence) 2011 Symposium, a gathering of intelligence experts, last week.

First a confession. I agreed with those who considered the legislation that established the director of national intelligence (DNI) a bad and unnecessary idea. The move did not reform the intelligence community but rather added a new layer to an already large and competitively structured bureaucracy.

Intelligence functions best when those in charge as well as those below work easily and not competitively with one another. This also assumes the president and his White House staff have some sophistication about the intelligence community and its work.

Before Sept. 11, 2001, the director of central intelligence — who also headed the CIA — was not competing with the secretary of defense because the latter controlled more than 85 percent of the intelligence budget. It was accepted that the CIA and FBI worked in separate lanes, a situation that went back to the days of J. Edgar Hoover, despite attempts by more recent directors to better coordinate activities.

The 1990s post-Cold War period was disastrous for the intelligence community, after CIA Director William Casey had led President Reagan into the foolhardy Iran-contra affair, thanks in part to Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, who actually became a facilitator of the project. The blame for the affair centered on the CIA as well as the White House.

The CIA was cast further adrift after President Bill Clinton, who had no personal connection to the agency, in 1993 appointed R. James Woolsey as director, a man he’d never previously met.

When Woolsey left and a potential successor withdrew his name from consideration, Clinton in 1995 turned to then-Deputy Defense Secretary John M. Deutch, who sought to use the job to become defense secretary during Clinton’s second term.

Appointed in 1997 as the fourth director in six years, George J. Tenet established continuity. Though Tenet survived the transition in 2001 to President George W. Bush, he had to deal with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who had his own ideas about intelligence. Early on, Rumsfeld set up competing shops in the Pentagon.

Sept. 11 was cited as a CIA intelligence failure, in part because the agency post-Deutch had become “risk averse” and in part because it and other members of the community did not share their intelligence. In the wake of 9/11, the intelligence agencies on their own made changes, as joint counterterrorism centers were expanded and new ones created, including the National Counterterrorism Center.

CIA misjudgments in 2002 about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction were magnified by the Defense Department and White House to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Then Congress jumped in, adopting the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations for a single intelligence director, and the DNI was born.

It’s had a rocky start. Clapper in 2010 became the fourth director in five years. And because he cut staff, limited the office’s intervention in operational activities and had good relations with both CIA Director Leon Panetta and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, he has cultivated a more positive community element.

Just look at a few things Clapper said at Geoint 2011 last week in San Antonio.

He had just sent to the White House a plan for reductions in the intelligence budget based on engagement with agency directors and program managers because “that’s where the money is.” Previous tension over shared spending of the National Intelligence Program money — which includes Pentagon elements and the Military Intelligence Program funding, which is all under the defense secretary — had been mitigated with a new transparency, Clapper said. That was no surprise since he is dealing with his Pentagon colleague and successor, Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers.

Most interesting, however, was Clapper’s 10-year plan to cut information technology costs. Working with directors from four high-tech intelligence agencies, a team was established to explore what steps would not only lead to lower costs but also better integration of their separate data. The agencies were the eavesdropping, code-breaking National Security Agency, the satellite-building and operating National Reconnaissance Office, the imagery collecting and analyzing National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency.

More recently, the CIA was added and the five, known as the Quint, are to come up with approaches in December to implement a long-term, common architecture plan. In a broad sense, agencies that today manage their own IT environments will move to an intelligence-community-managed IT enterprise. It will call for simple things like a community-wide desktop with more power for those who need it. There also could be common applications and consolidation of networks.

Some mission operational elements for individual agencies, like the CIA and NSA, will remain unique, but even those will be expected to have interoperability built in so sometime in the future they could be plugged into a more common system. Future analysts and operators will open their computers to a common browser that will take them to sites where they can gather data across the community, assuming they have the authority and clearances. Access will be protected through tagging of people and tagging of data.

The goal is to have core services in place by fiscal 2018.

Attempts like this have been made before. Let’s see if this one works.