A Better Government | Congressional Reform
Because so much of what occurs in the intelligence community is classified and inaccessible to the public, we are dependent on Congress to maintain strong oversight on our behalf to make certain our freedoms are protected and our security assured. Yet, as the 9/11 Commission Report concludes, “Congressional oversight for intelligence – and counterterrorism – is now dysfunctional.” Replacing the current intelligence committee structure with either a joint committee or a single committee in each house of Congress, “combining authorizing and appropriating authorities,” is a necessary reform that must be undertaken.
Currently, intelligence funds are appropriated secretly within the defense budget. Declassifying and separating the intelligence budget is another necessary reform that must be coupled with the creation of a powerful congressional intelligence committee(s). In December 2005, the 9/11 Commission found “the House and Senate have taken limited positive steps, including the creation of oversight subcommittees. However, the ability of the intelligence committees to perform oversight of the intelligence agencies and account for their performance is still undermined by the power of the Defense Appropriations subcommittees and Armed Services committees.” Altering Congressional committee jurisdictions and structures is a politically tenuous task. However, as difficult as these changes may be to implement, they must be addressed now.
On January 9, 2007, The House voted largely along party lines, 239-188, to pass a resolution, sponsored by Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., that establishes an intelligence oversight panel consisting of members of the House Intelligence Committee and the House Appropriations Committee. The provision, named H. Res 35 corresponds to a recommendation by the 9/11 Commission, which urged a change in intelligence and counter-terrorism oversight. The new panel would include members from both the Intelligence Committee, which authorizes and oversees intelligence programs, and the Appropriations Committee, which holds the purse strings.
"This is a major reform, and a significant and important step forward in improving oversight," 9/11 Commissioner Tim Roemer is quoted in Baltimore Sun coverage. Roemer added that marrying the spending and policy responsibilities would make it harder for intelligence agencies to "game the system" by playing one committee off the other, as they do now. The Commissioners have advocated for a single joint House-Senate Intelligence Committee. But taking that step would require Senate approval, and the Senate has so far resisted overhauling its own intelligence oversight structure. Because it is an internal House Resolution, H. Res. 35 does not require action from the Senate or the signature of President Bush. The resolution fulfills the Commissioners’ recommendation for a “a single committee in each house of Congress, combining authorizing and appropriating authorities” as an alternative to the joint committee.
9/11 Commission Recommendation:
“Congressional oversight for intelligence -- and counterterrorism -- is now dysfunctional. Congress should address this problem. We have considered various alternatives: A joint committee on the old model of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy is one. A single committee in each house of Congress, combining authorizing and appropriating authorities, is another.”
Read the recommendation in context in the 9/11 Commission Final Report, Chapter 13
Follow-Up to Recommendation:
December, 2005 9/11 Public Discourse Project Report Card:
Intelligence oversight reform, grade: D
The House and Senate have taken limited positive steps, including the creation of oversight subcommittees. However, the ability of the intelligence committees to perform oversight of the intelligence agencies and account for their performance is still undermined by the power of the Defense Appropriations subcommittees and Armed Services committees.