Intelligence Oversight Deflected by Appropriators

Updated below

The efficacy of intelligence oversight in the Senate has been drastically undermined by procedural hurdles that enable the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee to overrule actions taken by the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senators complained earlier this month. To remedy this concern, a new bill has been introduced that would transfer budget appropriations authority to the Intelligence Committee.

This year, the Senate Intelligence Committee presented “four major oversight initiatives in its [authorization] bill,” said Sen. Christopher S. Bond (R-MO) (pdf) at a Committee hearing on November 13. But in each case, “actions by the appropriations committee were completely dissimilar.”

A Memorandum of Agreement between the Committees that was supposed to improve coordination between the authorizers and the appropriators has failed in every significant respect, he said.

In a written statement, Sen. Bond referred obliquely to several attempted actions by the Intelligence Committee that had been overridden by appropriators to the detriment of national policy.

For example, because of resistance from appropriators, “It took until recent time to end a program that, at the least, should have been terminated a few years ago. Unfortunately, all told, the loss to the taxpayers is astronomical, in the billions of dollars.” This appears to be a reference to the Future Imagery Architecture MISTY satellite program (thanks to Jeff Richelson for the correction).

See Senator Bond’s November 13 statement here.

Related statements and testimony from the SSCI hearing on intelligence oversight are here.

The proposed Senate Resolution 375 that would grant appropriation authority to the Intelligence Committee is here.

The recent decision to declassify the annual budget of the National Intelligence Program now makes it possible to remove the intelligence budget from concealment in the defense budget and to appropriate it independently, thereby strengthening oversight and accountability.

For this and other reasons, budget declassification is the most important involuntary public disclosure of intelligence information at least since declassification of the August 6, 2001 President’s Daily Brief item “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S” (pdf).

But significantly, the intelligence oversight committees, which have been criticized for ineffective leadership on several controversial policy fronts, did not play a leading role in intelligence budget disclosure either.

Update and Correction: Although the intelligence budget disclosure requirement was not successfully enacted in previous Intelligence Authorization Acts, members of the Intelligence Committee did help ensure its acceptance in the bill implementing the 9/11 Commission recommendations. See this October 30 news release from Sen. Kit Bond, “Bond Praises Release of Intelligence Community’s Budget” (pdf). Senator Bond also expressed his support for declassification of top-line budget figures from past years, a task that remains to be accomplished.

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