Seeking Structural Reform of the Intel Budget

Open government advocates believe that intelligence budget disclosure is good public policy and may even be required by the Constitution’s statement and account clause.  But what makes it potentially interesting to policymakers is that it would permit the intelligence budget to be directly appropriated, rather than being secretly funneled through the Pentagon budget as it is now.

“I would support and I’ve also been working [on] actually taking the National Intelligence Program out of the DoD budget,” said DNI-nominee Gen. James R. Clapper at his confirmation hearing yesterday, “since the original reason for having it embedded in the Department’s budget was for classification purposes.  Well, if it’s going to be publicly revealed, that purpose goes away.”

Removing classified NIP funding from the DoD budget would be appealing to the Pentagon since it would make the DoD’s total budget appear smaller.  “It serves the added advantage of reducing the topline of the DoD budget, which is quite large, as you know, and that’s a large amount of money that the Department really has no real jurisdiction over,” Gen. Clapper said.

The primary obstacle to such a change in the structure of the intelligence budget may now lie in Congress, not in the intelligence community.

The Senate Intelligence Committee has just weakened an amendment to require annual disclosure of the NIP budget request at the start of the budget process — which is a prerequisite to an open intelligence budget appropriation — by making disclosure subject to a presidential waiver.

The original amendment, offered by Senators Feingold, Bond and Wyden, “was intended to make possible a recommendation of the 9/11 Commission to improve congressional oversight by passing a separate intelligence appropriations bill,” explained Senator Feingold.  But the effort to implement that recommendation “would be seriously complicated by the year-to-year uncertainty of a presidential waiver,” he said in the revised markup (pdf) of the FY2010 intelligence authorization act, released yesterday (at p. 76).

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