Posts from March, 2013

The US-South Korea Free Trade Agreement, and More from CRS

The latest updated products from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

The U.S.-South Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA): Provisions and Implications, March 7, 2013

Arab League Boycott of Israel, March 5, 2013

Senate Select Committee on Ethics: A Brief History of Its Evolution and Jurisdiction, March 7, 2013

Small Business Administration: A Primer on Programs, March 7, 2013

Lobbying Registration and Disclosure: The Role of the Clerk of the House and the Secretary of the Senate, March 7, 2013

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families: Welfare Waivers, March 7, 2013

Multilateral Development Banks: How the United States Makes and Implements Policy, March 7, 2013

The Judgment Fund: History, Administration, and Common Usage, March 7, 2013

Congress Bars Removal of Intelligence Spending from DoD Budget

Congress has again blocked the transfer of the National Intelligence Program outside the Department of Defense budget, rejecting a move that had been urged by the 9/11 Commission.  The transfer was specifically prohibited in the 2013 continuing appropriations conference bill passed by the House yesterday.

“None of the funds appropriated in this or any other Act may be used to plan, prepare for, or otherwise take any action to undertake or implement the separation of the National Intelligence Program budget from the Department of Defense budget,” the conference bill stated in section 8108.

As things stand, the National Intelligence Program is largely subordinate, if not altogether subservient, to the Department of Defense and to the vagaries and pressures of the defense appropriations process.

The 9/11 Commission said that a stand-alone intelligence budget was a prerequisite to effective intelligence leadership, and that it was an essential step towards needed reform of congressional oversight of intelligence.

Declassification of the intelligence budget total, which has now become the norm, made it possible to “unlock the concealment of the intelligence budget inside the Pentagon budget and, with it, control by the defense appropriations subcommittee and the Pentagon,” recalled Commission executive director Philip Zelikow in an article last year in CIA Studies in Intelligence. “With that declassification, our proposed reform of Congress was possible, adding budget control to the general oversight authority of the intelligence committees.”

But giving additional authority to the intelligence committees meant taking authority away from defense appropriators, and it seems that was too much to swallow.

In another provision of the 2013 continuing appropriations bill (sec. 8080), Congress said that no funds may be spent to make use of intelligence that has been unlawfully acquired.

“None of the funds provided in this Act shall be available for integration of foreign intelligence information unless the information has been lawfully collected and processed during the conduct of authorized foreign intelligence activities: Provided, That information pertaining to United States persons shall only be handled in accordance with protections provided in the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution as implemented  through Executive Order No. 12333.”

Congress Requires a Report on DoD Drone Surveillance

Congress has directed the Secretary of Defense to report on the handling of surveillance data collected by military unmanned aerial systems operating in domestic airspace.  A provision in the 2013 continuing appropriations conference bill approved by the House yesterday explained:

“The conferees are aware of concerns that have been raised regarding the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and their sensors in domestic airspace. The conferees understand that the Air Force has policies and procedures in place governing the disposition of UAV collections that may inadvertently capture matters of concern to law enforcement agencies. These policies and procedures are designed to ensure constitutional protections and proper separation between the military and law enforcement. However, it is unclear if other Services and Defense agencies have similar policies and procedures in place, or if these policies and procedures need to be revised or standardized. Therefore, the conferees direct the Secretary of Defense to report to the congressional defense committees on the policies and procedures in place across the Services and Defense agencies governing the use of such collections and to identify any additional steps that need to be taken to ensure that such policies and procedures are adequate and consistent across the Department of Defense. This report shall be submitted not later than 90 days after the enactment of this Act.”

The referenced Air Force policy on incidental collection of U.S. person data by its drones was reported in USAF Drones May Conduct ‘Incidental’ Domestic Surveillance, Secrecy News, May 8, 2012.

The use of unmanned aerial systems for surveillance and targeted killing of American citizens has galvanized political attention to a degree that seems wildly out of proportion to the objective data that are available.  But that political attention itself creates a new objective reality.

Sen. Rand Paul conducted a nearly 13 hour filibuster on the Senate floor yesterday in an effort to compel an official answer to the question of whether non-combatant U.S. citizens could be lethally targeted by drone in the United States.  (The answer, the attorney general said today, is no.)  The text of the marathon floor discussion, which included many interesting and substantive points, is available here.

On Tuesday, a bill was introduced by Rep. Austin Scott (R-GA) “to protect individual privacy against unwarranted governmental intrusion through the use of the unmanned aerial vehicles commonly called drones” (HR 972).

Gun Control Proposals, and More from CRS

The latest products from the Congressional Research Service include these reports:

Gun Control Proposals in the 113th Congress: Universal Background Checks, Gun Trafficking, and Military Style Firearms, March 1, 2013

Party Leaders in the United States Congress, 1789-2013, March 4, 2013

Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs: Status of the Integrated Electronic Health Record (iEHR), February 26, 2013

Environmental Regulation and Agriculture, February 22, 2013

Oil Sands and the Keystone XL Pipeline: Background and Selected Environmental Issues, February 21, 2013

A bill was introduced today by Reps. Leonard Lance (R-NJ) and Mike Quigley (D-IL) that would facilitate public access to CRS reports without the need for subterfuge, unauthorized access, or payment of fees to private vendors. Similar legislative efforts in the past have repeatedly been rejected. See “It’s Time to Give the Public Access to CRS Reports” by Matthew Rumsey, Sunlight Foundation, March 7.

The Real Minimum Wage, Cybersecurity, and More from CRS

The hourly minimum wage reached its peak value in 1968, when it was worth $10.57 in real terms, the Congressional Research Service calculated in a new report.  But although the nominal value of the minimum wage has increased over the years, it has not kept pace with the increase in consumer prices, and so its real value has fallen.  See Inflation and the Real Minimum Wage: A Fact Sheet, February 26, 2013.

The recent executive order 13636 on cybersecurity was discussed in another new CRS report, which reviewed the order’s provisions, compared it to pending legislation, and discussed the authority of the President to act unilaterally in this area.  See The 2013 Cybersecurity Executive Order: Overview and Considerations for Congress, March 1, 2013.

A 1999 provision to provide public access to scientific data used in federally funded research (known as the Shelby Amendment) has rarely been invoked in Freedom of Information Act requests, and so neither the benefits promised by its advocates nor the concerns of its critics have been realized to any significant extent, a CRS study found.  See Public Access to Data from Federally Funded Research: Provisions in OMB Circular A-110, March 1, 2013.

The prospects for current negotiations between the government of Colombia and the insurgent Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) were assessed in a new CRS report, which also provided background on the conflict in that country.  See Peace Talks in Colombia, March 1, 2013.

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear challenges to two state laws that impose restrictions on same-sex marriage. The two pending cases were discussed by CRS in Same-Sex Marriage and Supreme Court: United States v. Windsor and Hollingsworth v. Perry, February 20, 2013.

The Equal Rights Amendment that was proposed in 1972 to prohibit discrimination “on account of sex” was eventually ratified by 35 states, three short of the 38 states required for adoption.  Those ratifications have formally expired, but some supporters contend controversially that it would possible “to restart the clock on ratification at the current level of 35 states.”  The issues were discussed by CRS in The Proposed Equal Rights Amendment: Contemporary Ratification Issues, February 28, 2013.

The adequacy of official reporting of government expenditures is a continuing concern among policy advocates.  “Two agencies — the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Defense (DOD) — have never received unqualified audit opinions, which signifies the persistence of financial problems at these agencies,” a new CRS report said.  See Federal Financial Reporting: An Overview, February 27, 2013.

Other noteworthy new and updated CRS products that Congress has directed CRS not to release to the public include the following.

Issues in Homeland Security Policy for the 113th Congress, February 27, 2013

Comparison of Rights in Military Commission Trials and Trials in Federal Criminal Court, February 28, 2013

International Law and Agreements: Their Effect Upon U.S. Law, March 1, 2013

Cybersecurity: Authoritative Reports and Resources, February 28, 2013

U.S. Crude Oil and Natural Gas Production in Federal and Non-Federal Areas, February 28, 2013

Securing America’s Borders: The Role of the Military, February 25, 2013

Army Drawdown and Restructuring: Background and Issues for Congress, March 5, 2013

U.S. Trade and Investment in the Middle East and North Africa: Overview and Issues for Congress, February 28, 2013

Southwest Border Violence: Issues in Identifying and Measuring Spillover Violence, February 28, 2013

Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC): Transfer and Disposal of Military Property, February 28, 2013

Department of Defense Trends in Overseas Contract Obligations, March 1, 2013

Sequestration as a Budget Enforcement Process: Frequently Asked Questions, February 27, 2013

Sessions, Adjournments, and Recesses of Congress, February 27, 2013

Kenya: Current Issues and U.S. Policy, February 26, 2013

Comparing Medicaid and Exchanges: Benefits and Costs for Individuals and Families, February 28, 2013

Brief History of Comprehensive Immigration Reform Efforts in the 109th and 110th Congresses to Inform Policy Discussions in the 113th Congress, February 27, 2013

U.S. Trade and Investment in the Middle East and North Africa: Overview and Issues for Congress, February 28, 2013

China’s Economic Conditions, March 4, 2013